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Urban renewal language rewritten.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

Adding words here and editing there, a Lane County Circuit Court judge on Thursday rewrote the language that voters will see on Eugene's $40 million November ballot measure to finance downtown redevelopment.

Judge Lauren Holland mainly used the words of city attorney Glenn Klein to rewrite the measure wording, while rejecting most of a competing ballot proposal from Paul Nicholson, a financing plan foe and former city councilman.

And Holland agreed with Klein on a key point - that the changes in the city's downtown urban renewal district plan sought by the City Council would not impose new taxes.

Although Nicholson contended that the changes would "impose new property taxes, the total amount does not increase," Holland wrote in her four-page order.

The battle over the ballot question and summary may prove crucial because the wording is likely to influence whether some voters approve or reject the measure.

Eugene voters on Nov. 6 will decide whether to give the City Council, acting as the city's urban renewal agency, authority to spend up to $40 million on downtown projects during the next three decades. The change also would extend the life of the downtown urban renewal district six years, from 2024 to 2030.

The City Council wants the money for the possible two-block redevelopment of West Broadway, between Willamette and Charnelton streets.

Nicholson, who owns Paul's Bicycle Way of Life, launched the legal challenge to the city's ballot wording, claiming that it misled voters and didn't accurately and concisely summarize what the measure would do, as required by state law.

But Holland used much of Klein's wording to rewrite the summary, ignoring Nicholson's suggested version.

Nicholson, for example, wanted voters to read that the change would increase the district's current borrowing limit by $40 million, from $33 million to $73 million.

But the city's summary states that the change would increase the maximum borrowing amount by $40 million, "which is the major effect of the measure," Holland wrote.

Nicholson's version "would mislead voters by suggesting" that the city would have $73 million available for downtown projects, she wrote, "when, in fact, most of the original $33 million has been spent."

Yet Holland preferred most of Nicholson's ballot question to Klein's.

The city finances public improvements in the downtown and riverfront urban renewal districts through property tax receipts in the districts, a method called tax-increment financing.

But the judge rewrote much of Klein's summary. For instance, she faulted his statement for failing to clearly inform voters that the financing method would cause a shift in property tax revenues to the urban renewal district and away from other local governments, such as Lane County and schools.

"The reduction of revenue for other taxing districts is an important fiscal consequence of this measure of which voters should be informed in the summary," she wrote.

In the official ballot summary, Holland borrowed Klein's phrase that the city's financing method "reallocates" property taxes from other governments to the downtown district. She then added the following sentence: "This reduces revenues to the other taxing districts."

Klein and Nicholson's attorney, Meg Kieran, presented their verbal arguments to Holland on Tuesday.

Nicholson said the judge's version of the ballot measure is an improvement over the city attorney's. But, he said, he was disappointed that Holland didn't agree with him that the measure would increase the district's borrowing limit to $73 million.

Nicholson also said he was displeased in how much it cost him to file an appeal, and that he was not allowed to speak in court or present documents buttressing his case.

"This is a process stacked in favor of the city," he said.

Holland issued the order shortly before noon Thursday, giving city officials time to meet a 5 p.m. deadline for submitting ballot language to the Lane County Elections office.

BALLOT MEASURE

Lane County Circuit Court Judge Lauren Holland took parts of two competing proposals to write the Nov. 6 ballot measure for Eugene's $40 million plan to finance downtown redevelopment. Here's her final language:

Ballot Title: Downtown Urban Renewal Plan Amendment

Question: Shall urban renewal plan be amended to increase the spending limit by $40 million and extend the plan's ending date?

Summary: If approved by voters, this measure would make two major changes to the downtown urban renewal plan.

First: The measure would increase the amount of urban renewal funds that can be spent on downtown projects by $40 million. The urban renewal plan limits the amount of urban renewal funds that can be spent, known as the maximum indebtedness amount. Under the current plan, approximately $4.5 million is left for downtown projects. These urban renewal funds - officially called tax increment funds - are the property taxes on the increase in assessed value of property in the urban renewal district that occurs after the plan's adoption. Tax increment financing does not impose new taxes, but instead reallocates the property taxes on the increase in assessed value from other taxing districts to the urban renewal agency. This reduces revenue to the other taxing districts.

Second: The measure would extend the termination date for the downtown urban renewal plan from 2024 to 2030.

A 'yes' vote : Approves the urban renewal plan amendments.
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Title Annotation:Government; Judge Lauren Holland tweaks the wording of the ballot question, summary
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 7, 2007
Words:871
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