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Local briefs 

by Pia K Hansen

TIF passes

SPOKANE -- After being deemed unconstitutional by a Spokane judge in 1994, tax increment financing (TIF) is now an option in Washington state again.

Representative Jeff Gombosky of Spokane was the prime sponsor of the bill, which Governor Gary Locke signed on Monday. The approval is a major victory for the Spokane Chamber of Commerce, which, together with other area economic development groups, has been fighting hard to get what it calls a vital development tool back again.

"This bill has been at the top of our priority list for a number of years," says Chamber President Richard Hadley. "The community's success is proof of the hard work, perseverance and collaboration of many different players."

TIF is used to improve infrastructure in underdeveloped or blighted areas, within boundaries that are established by the city or county. If an area needs better roads or sewers in order to be developed, the local government under TIF can issue bonds to pay for the work.

The lack of infrastructure is often a problem when trying to attract developers to growth or in-fill areas, or in poorer areas of town. As the infrastructure is improved, property values go up, as do property taxes. Then those additional incoming tax revenues are used to pay off the bonds.

The boundaries for the TIF area must be approved by 70 percent of the local residents at public hearings.

Developers have complained that Washington did not offer this option, and actually taken (or threatened to take) developments to Oregon, Idaho or Montana, which all offer TIF.

"Without this tool, our region has been at a distinct disadvantage in working to retain and attract quality jobs to the region," says Mark Turner, president and CEO of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, in a statement.

Opponents say TIF essentially is corporate welfare, an argument that's countered by developers who say that since the city or county maintains ownership of the improved structure, everyone benefits.

"Enacting this bill is a good first step," Turner continues, "now it's up to us to make effective use of it."

Look into the future

Coeur d'Alene -- The city is presenting all the input that has been gathered from local residents on the Coeur d'Alene 2020 Strategic Plan at a series of open houses.

Representatives from most of the city's boards, commissions, committees, businesses and civic and community groups have been meeting since November 2000 on the plan. At the open houses, all the information will be available for review as the city continues to seek input on citizens' visions and hopes for Coeur d'Alene.

"This can only be a true community strategic plan if we have community input," says Mayor Steve Judy. "These open houses will allow us to continue to identify the issues that are on citizens' minds."

The open houses will be held on May 12-14, at Silver Lake Mall; on May 16-19, downtown next to Johannes Jewelry, 406 Sherman Ave.; and on May 21-23 at the Lake City Senior Center, 1916 Lakewood Drive. Call: (208) 769 2204.
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