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Revenues eyed for parking garageEarmarked funding would come from existing sources.
"Legislation so new that it's not yet effective may allow the city to build a downtown parking structure without imposing new taxes.Called community revitalization financing, the measure allows cities to designate a geographic benefit area, and use a portion of property taxes from that area to pay for public-works improvements.This has real possibilities for us, Mayor Dwight Sutton said. The city and the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority are studying the feasibility of a multi-story underground parking garage on the property south of the farmers' market plaza between city hall and the Bainbridge Performing Arts playhouse. The housing authority wants to develop a 50-unit housing project above the garage, the majority of which would be affordable to families with incomes in the $30,000 range.The ground floor of the development would be dedicated, in whole or in part, to public space. Although still in the concept stage, plans for that area involve an arts orientation.Downtown Winslow business interests and some members of the city council have pushed hard for a garage over the past year, citing the need to keep shoppers on the island and meeting the needs of growing businesses in a high-density core.But the proposal has remained stalled, largely on issues of financing. Estimated cost of the garage portion of the building alone is estimated at up to $6 million.IncrementsUnder the new community revitalization legislation, which becomes effective July 22, a city defines a geographic increment area. The total assessed valuation of the benefit area at the time of its designation is known as the base value.The law envisions increases in the total valuation within the increment area, either from new construction or valuation gains of existing property. The law defines 75 percent of those increases as increment value. And the property taxes levied on that increment value are earmarked to pay for the improvements.A hypothetical example illustrates the workings of the law. If the valuation of a piece of property within the specified area increases $100,000 after creation of the area, then the increment value is $75,000. The taxes levied on that $75,000 are dedicated to finance the improvement at issue.It creates a flow of cash to pay the bonds back, said Roger Waid, deputy executive director of the housing authority.There are complications. The city does not get all of the taxes levied on the increment value - the state, county and school district portion of the property tax is unaffected, according to city Administrator Lynn Nordby. And while the city could get the property-tax share of other local districts, such as fire, park and library, a strong majority of the affected districts would have to approve.The next step is to start talking to those districts, Nordby said. We might be able to get fire district approval by also making improvements that benefit it, like fire-flow improvements in the downtown area.The other limiting proviso is the fact that the law self-extinguishes in 2010.It provides a stream of revenue, but only for a limited time, and there are no guarantees after that, Waid said.The very real question, then, is whether increment financing could generate enough money to pay for the estimated cost of a 310-space garage.That's not clear, Nordby said. We had a conference call with the housing authority and a lawyer, and we all came up with different answers. The way I did the calculations showed that it wouldn't generate all that much money. The way the lawyer did it showed that it could generate plenty.Waid said the housing authority looks at the tax-increment possibility as one portion of a financing package, but not the entire package. The housing will be paid for by separate bonds that KCCHA sells, which will be repaid by sales or rentals of the homes.The arts portion, he said, could potentially be paid for by the island's park district, which might be able to use increment financing as well. And ultimately, parking garage patrons and Winslow merchants will have to provide some of the financing as well, he said.What the increment financing really does is allow us to pay for the project and give us a period of time to develop fund sources to continue to operate, he said.But ultimately, everyone who owns or uses a portion of the facility will have to pay for it. There's no free parking. "