Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, February 08, 2008

"County signs on to fund Hawkins project"

From yesterday's Whitman County Gazette:
County commissioners Monday unanimously approved a preliminary development agreement to fund infrastructure improvements for Boise-based Hawkins Companies’ 714,000 square-foot shopping center on the Idaho state line.

“Mr. DeVoe, let’s build a shopping center,” said Commissioner Jerry Finch.

If all goes according to plan, the company will break ground this June and open the doors on the development possibly as soon as fall 2009.

“We’re convinced that this is going to be a successful center,” said Hawkins Spokesman Jeff DeVoe.

Under the terms of the agreement, Hawkins will build roads, a water system and a sewage treatment facility at the site. The county will then pay for that infrastructure with the issuance of up to $9.1 million in revenue bonds. The county is considering a 20- year bond issue.

After the company is paid, the county will own the infrastructure.

“I’m so excited about this,” said Finch. “Since I have been a commissioner, this is, without a doubt, the happiest day I have had.”

In return, the county anticipates sales and property tax revenues from the site to fund bond payments and then some.

“This investment will not only return the cost, but will return extra to the taxpayers for services right now that are difficult to fund at their current levels,” said Commissioner Michael Largent.

Largent hailed the development as a win-win for the county and Hawkins.

Commissioner Greg Partch said clearing the way for the retail development is an example of good economic development.

“It only takes five minutes and two votes to raise taxes,” said Partch. “But it takes years to develop the economic base.”

Partch added expanding that base will provide a layer of financial stability for the county. That means it will be able to provide services without relying on state grants, he said.

“We just can’t depend on the state for services anymore,” said Partch.

Largent added other taxing districts will benefit greatly from the increased tax base.

“If you support schools, if you support rural libraries, you’re going to have to think hard about supporting this revenue stream,” said Largent.

Increased property taxes from the site are expected to generate more than $4.2 million in revenue for the Pullman School District, over $400,000 for the county’s rural library district, $1.2 million for Rural Fire District 12 and $350,000 for the Port of Whitman.

The agreement sets a $9.1 million cap on how much money the county will bond for the improvements.

Largent said Tuesday that number could go down.

Hawkins also provided a guarantee that the county will not be stuck if bonds are issued and the project does not develop.

The company will pay the difference if sales and property tax revenues do not meet the bond payment amount in years three through seven of the deal.

The company expects to have the development in place by year three and to have it completely built in seven years.

The deal hinges on the company’s ability to receive a signed commitment from an anchor tenant and to acquire water for the site.

Lowe’s Home Improvement stores has signed a letter of intent to put a store at the site. Finch said last week another company has expressed interest.

Providing the development with water was the only stumbling point, but the Moscow city council Monday night voted 5-1 in favor of providing water to the development from its municipal system.

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