Hamilton is considering creating a special district that could help pay for infrastructure improvements along Highway 93 and Old Corvallis Road, and the city council wants to know what area residents think about it.
The North Hamilton Urban Renewal District technically meets conditions of the term “blighted,” which allows for its creation of a special fund to create upgrades within the district. Forming the district wouldn't increase taxes; instead, the city would note the property taxes coming from the district in 2018, and would continue to contribute those base taxes to cover traditional functions.
But any tax dollars that are greater than that base level — typically created through improvements to property — would go into a special fund that only could be used on projects within the urban renewal district. The district would be in place for 15 years, unless its life is extended.
“It doesn’t take away any of the base taxes, but any improvements in the district that increase the taxable value will go into plans for that targeted area,” said Donny Ramer, the city’s public works director.
The targeted area is generally north from Foxfield Street along the Highway 93 Business District and portions along Old Corvallis Road from Fairgrounds Road north and east, extending to the portion of the city of Hamilton containing the GlaxoSmithKline campus.
In a resolution signed in December 2017, city officials said the blight “substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the city or its environs, constitutes an economic or social liability, and is detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare in its present condition and use.”
Specifically, the blight includes four general areas with specifics in each section. Those include:
Defective or inadequate street layouts. Specifically, the lack of a stop light near Super One Foods on Highway 93, which creates unsafe driving conditions and poor traffic circulation; and a lack sidewalks and lighting along Old Corvallis Road; undeveloped right of ways and unimproved driveways between Old Corvallis Road and Highway 93.
Unsanitary or unsafe conditions. Specifically, homes and businesses that are not connected to the city wastewater or water system, which can impact the watershed and water quality.
The mixed use of businesses and homes, which range from agricultural to residential to commercial, has proven to be a disincentive to the improvement of properties within the area by private enterprises.
The checkerboard of city property among county parcels, which doesn’t allow improvements to infrastructure due to budget shortfalls and different design standards between the city and county.
“I know blighted sounds kind of harsh, but there is a documented need for the items listed,” Ramer said.
The city sent a letter out last April to property owners within the district, explaining that Hamilton and the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority (RCEDA) had been researching the possible benefits of an urban renewal project with the city limits. A public hearing before the Hamilton City Council is set to begin at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 in the Hamilton City Hall community room at 223 So. Second St.
Julie Foster, executive director of the RCEDA, said she got calls from a few people after the April letter. Some people said they didn’t want to be a part of it. Others wanted more information on how it would work, and some already are in favor of it.
Of particular concern to Foster are the homes that are adjacent to the city but technically are in the county and have individual wells and septic systems, as well as some businesses which were using portable outdoor toilets because they didn’t have running water. She understands that people do this because of the high cost of hooking into municipal sewer and water, and noted that if the district is formed, the money raised could help offset the costs.
“We look at Cooper Lane and the infrastructure improvements are one place where we would like to pool our resources today, if possible,” Foster said. “But it is so darn expensive to hook people up.
“Ultimately, as the name implies, the TEDD is a financial tool. It would provide money for the city to put in necessary infrastructure of all kinds. If we don’t enable that tool we can’t do anything. You can’t say you don’t want mixed uses because they are there. But over time, if you have correct infrastructure, I think the market takes care of itself. You have incentivized places for the type of growth you want to happen.”
But to participate, the person’s property would need to be annexed into the city — something people with working wells and septics can be reluctant to do until their septic system fails.
Ramer said they won’t force annexation on anyone, unless a county property is surrounded by the city.
At this point, Ramer said they hope to finalize the district by January 2019, although the timeline is preliminary. He hopes people will listen to the proposal and move it forward.
“I don’t think people along Highway 93 will have a problem having a new traffic light and safer traffic through the area by Super One,” he said. “And I think everyone along Old Corvallis Road understands the need for improvements.