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Florence weighs urban renewal plan.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - It would have a minimal impact on taxing districts, pay for much-needed infrastructure improvements in Old Town and could help eradicate blight on Bay Street, say supporters.

So why is the idea of an urban renewal district being met with skepticism in Florence? Not enough education of the public, says Frank Casazza, who co-chaired the committee that developed a plan for spending the tax money.

Casazza and other pro-urban renewal leaders in the city are meeting with community groups to answer residents' questions about a measure on the Florence ballot that would redirect $20 million in future tax revenue increases to pay for improvements on 337 acres in Old Town.

Under the tax increment financing system, future increases in property tax revenues within the district boundaries would be dedicated to infrastructure and other work within the district.

The agency could offer the money to developers who want to build condominiums, retail shops or other housing in the area. In August, the Florence City Council decided to put the plan to a vote instead of deciding on the matter itself, hoping to build support for the idea.

But plenty of concerns remain. "One that we helped foster, unfortunately, is that we're going to tear down the Old Town area and rebuild it like Southern California - which is not true," Casazza said. "What this is designed for is helping upgrade some of the infrastructure."

The subject is on the minds of City Council candidates; three of the four support the measure, though candidate George Rogato says the City Council should keep a tight grip on where the money goes. As the plan is written, an urban renewal agency could deviate from the projects now proposed by up to $500,000 without approval from the council, he said.

"The council needs to have 100 percent control over that money," Rogato said. "And people should have input on how it's spent."

Candidate Suzanne Roberts is opposed, worried that the district could use eminent domain to take control of and tear down historic buildings in the city. And she doesn't like the way the district would be financed, by siphoning off money from future tax revenues for the city as a whole to pay for improvements in a limited district.

"A lot of this depends on growth," she said. "I don't have that much faith in the economy. If things slow down, taxpayers in this city could be in deep trouble."

Casazza said the more he and other leaders meet with local residents about the idea, the more they realize urban renewal is a good idea for Florence. That's in part because most of the area's property taxes go to schools, so the tax money that would be channeled to the renewal district would be replaced by the state. The state allocates funding to school districts based on enrollment. So with the urban renewal zone, Florence keeps all its property taxes locally, and the state provides additional revenue to the schools, Casazza argues.

Florence is the only city of its size on the coast without an urban renewal district, Casazza pointed out.

There's no organized opposition to the measure.

Winston Ross can be reached at (541) 902-9030 or rgcoast @oregonfast.net.

MEASURE 20-125

Should the Florence Downtown Preservation and Renewal Plan continue to be implemented?

What it would do: Using a system called tax increment financing, the district would garner $20 million in future property tax revenues from the downtown to finance parks, streets, public-private partnerships for preservation of historic structures, and new mixed-use developments on 337 acres in Old Town. Also, the money would pay for rehabilitation of the waterfront for public and commercial uses.

Tax impact: Uses a portion of future tax revenues, so there's no increase in property taxes. Those future tax revenues would not be available for other government purposes, however.

Web site: www.ci.florence.or.us/urbanrenewal.cfm
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Title Annotation:Elections; Supporters of the measure stress benefits of redirecting $20 million in tax revenues
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 10, 2006
Words:655
Previous Article:OUTDOORS BRIEFLY.
Next Article:Candidates differ on school funding plan.
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