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Property owners in La Grande’s proposed Economic Improvement District have until June 12 to submit written letters of objection to stop the establishment of the proposed EID. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Council puts establishment of proposed district in property owners’ hands
Property owners within the proposed Economic Improvement District have until June 12 to submit written letters of objection to stop the establishment of the district.
After a public hearing at the La Grande City Council meeting Wednesday night, the city council put the power in the property owners’ hands despite hearing concerns about administrative costs and the setup of the assessment system.
“It seems to me that this is something that really comes down to the property owners. If you get a third that are against this, it’s not going to go anywhere,” said Councilor John Bozarth after the hearing. “I don’t have a problem with it either way. But if you don’t get that 33 percent, I can see where this is going to go forward.”
If 33 percent of the assessed amount is represented by a letter of objection, the measure to establish the EID will be killed.
Mayor Pro Tem Mary Ann Miesner echoed Bozarth’s sentiment. Miesner presided over the hearing as Mayor Dan Pokorney recused himself due to a conflict of interest. Councilor John Lackey also recused himself since he is a property owner in the EID.
Both sides were represented during the hearing, with the council hearing three individuals from each side.
Dale Basso, a third generation business owner with four properties in the EID, was the first to testify for the district.
“Simply put, we want the visitors to go away knowing that this community has a strong sense of pride. I don’t have grandiose visions of an overnight transformation, but I do know that we need to keep working on maintaining and improving our downtown,” he said.
Basso also mentioned the national and state support system that comes with the Main Street program.
“For the last 30 years, downtown’s success has ebbed and flowed based on the availability of funding. An EID provides a mechanism for stabilizing the funding for Main Street,” he said.
Other proponents agreed with Basso’s testimony of the program.
“It costs less than $1 a day and I’m in Tier 1. That’s the cap. That’s less than a cup of coffee to support downtown and make that happen,” said EID property owner Eric Lawrence. “I would do it over and over.”
The ordinance sets up three tiers: Tier 1, Downtown Core; Tier 2, Greater Downtown; and Tier 3, Light Industrial. Tier 1 assessments are $2 per every $1,000 real market value, Tier 2 is at $1.75 per every $1,000 real market value and Tier 3 is $100 per parcel. Assessments are capped at $350 for Tier 1 and $175 for Tier 2.
Two property owners on Jefferson Avenue expressed that they don’t think that street reaps nearly as many benefits as businesses on Adams Avenue.
“We seem to get all the bills, but we don’t seem to get the economic benefits,” said Lee Flower, who has been downtown for 28 years. “We don’t have any flower baskets over there. We got some nice park benches, we got some nice bike racks and we got a lot of things that people can trip and fall over.”
Opponents also took issue with the Main Street budget, of which $36,000 of the nearly $87,000 budget is funded by Urban Renewal. Another $10,000 is allocated for beautification while $3,200 is directed to advertising and promotions.
“I really wonder what kind of benefit we’re supposed to be deriving from (promotions money),” Flower said.
Steve Joseph described the EID as “a disguised business tax on only a select portion of La Grande.”
Councilor Gary Lillard expressed some reservations about the concerns that were raised, but no one had any suggestions for changes when city manager Robert Strope asked if they wanted to leave the ordinance as it is currently written.