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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wheeler gets into it with the PDC

I'm liking Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler more all the time. Now he's got the nerve to start asking questions of the Portland Development Commission about the tax giveaways that the PDC doles out -- including abatements of county tax revenues over which Wheeler has little direct control.

Unfortunately, the precise handout that Wheeler's currently busting chops about affects relatively low-income people as well as fat cat developers, and that makes it easy to portray him as the bad guy, which of course the apologist crowd at the O is all too eager to do. (Reporter Sulzberger's sure getting the hang of that University Club spin -- he must not be ready to go back to New York yet.) But demanding that the city be able to answer some simple questions about the cash it throws around is in fact a great move on Wheeler's part. Let's see more of that from the county in the years ahead.

On a related note, it looks as though the PDC has finally succumbed to the browbeating it's taken, on this blog and elsewhere, about its failure to comply with ORS 457.460. That is a state law that requires each urban renewal agency to present an annual financial analysis of the impact of its urban renewal plans on tax collections for all the taxing districts whose revenue it messes with -- such as the county. For years, the old management of the PDC refused to release any figures about this, saying it couldn't be done, whereas other cities such as Lake Oswego did it with ease.

In the most recent PDC financials, lo and behold, there are actually dollar amounts given for the amount of "each Taxing District's Levy that is Allocated for Urban Renewal." They're on the last page of this pdf document. I don't know exactly what to make of those numbers -- do they include abated taxes, or just taxes that are actually collected but steered away from everyone else and over to the PDC? But in any event, there's nearly $14 million listed there as coming out of the county's pocket in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2006. I'd say that's a big enough figure to give Wheeler the right to demand some coherent answers about where it's going.

There are some other fascinating figures in the PDC report that deserve a post or two of their own. The amount of money that the city owes to various lenders for its urban renewal projects topped $500 million as of mid-2005 (see page 4). (According to this story, it appears the debt is now more than $600 million.) In other words, the city's seriously in hock for urban renewal -- the debt is more than $1,000 per city resident. The interest alone on that debt for the year ended June 30, 2006 was more than $21 million. Maybe the continuing boom in condo prices is going to pay all those bonds off? Uh huh.

And that's just the bill for urban renewal. Then there are the billions we still haven't socked away for the cop and fire pensions. Enjoy your aerial tram rides [rim shot] while ye may, people.

But I digress. You go, Ted!

Comments (7)

From what I can get on page 5 it says they have issued bonds worth about $500M so far and can issue up to $1.5B more worth of bond. On page 31, they are getting $50M worth of revenue from these URAs.

The $50M is barely paying down the existing bonds, so another Ponzi scheme is needed. Issue more bonds to pay the debt and build more trams!

Don't forget the proposed Burnside Bridgehead Project...the debt structure on that scheme was stretched out to 50 years!!!
Call me cynical, but I suspect that the currently released info from PDC is somewhat fictional.
Good for Ted Wheeler for trying to shed some light on those dusty financial records.

The PDC seems to give away our tax money instead of negotiating hard to get as much private investment as possible in the URAs. The tragedy unfolding is that there is growing public sentiment to completely shut down the PDC and Portland's innovative planning experiment.

The tragedy unfolding is that there is growing public sentiment to completely shut down the PDC and Portland's innovative planning experiment.


"I told you so." Many of us in the know have been professionally critiquing PDC about the black hole affect of how urban renewal treats all the other taxing governments for years. And PDC and media has laughed at us. I am glad Ted Wheeler is speaking up, about time. He will have the support of many who aren't at the watering hole. But beware, the jackels at the hole are numerous, intertwined, and includes many within government. Careful analysis of the ORS 457.460 filings from PDC that has not been complied with in the past, need to be made because there are several methods used by PDC to confuse the reviewer.

I hope some school districts, fire districts, suburban city governments, affordable housing advocates, etc., support the urban renewal issues that Wheeler's attention has highlighted.


I bet you're particularly upset seeing big developers get handouts, rr. The tragedy is that urban renewal is a worthy goal that we shouldn't abandon. The PDC needs to "develop" some common sense when it comes to money, and really, its own long-term political viability.

The PDC needs to "develop" some common sense when it comes to money

We are $600 million in debt on goofball projects, many of which will not play out (can you say "airport village"?). It's too late.

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