Oregon's enterprise zone system was approved by the state legislature in 1985. Operated under the auspices of the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, a total of 48 zones were created. In each of these areas or zones, a qualified business may be exempt from the local property tax liability on new capital investments for at least three years and up to five years.
>During their individual meetings this week, both the Prineville city council and the Crook County Court will take up the issue of making application for an enterprise zone designation
The goal of the enterprise zone system is the promotion of investments that provides useful employment, diversifies overall business activity and builds economic growth.
Following the original legislation, each zone sunsets after 10 years, although each can be renewed upon reapplication. As of July 2001, there were 44 enterprise zones designated. Applications for four new zones are being accepted.
City planning director Dick Brown said the deadline for making application is very close. "I'll hand deliver the forms to Salem on Friday," he said.
For the past few weeks both city and county officials have been working on the joint application, finally agreeing on the boundaries and incentives. A major part of the application process is to explain the various incentives that the local enterprise zone would offer to new or existing businesses with growth potential.
The application looks at a number of criteria that will be used to determine which applicant will best qualify. The local enterprise zone, if approved, would encompass seven square miles made up mostly of undeveloped commercial and industrial lands with about 20 percent within the city's urban growth boundary.
However the size or possible uses are only one aspect of the application. Information on population growth, per capita income, unemployment rates over the past ten years is also part of the picture. Economic needs, statistics and circumstances are a major portion of the qualifying information but considered very important is the local incentives and regulatory flexibility that are being offered.
These incentives would be offered to anyone bringing a new business to the area, or an existing business wishing to expand. Incentives in existing enterprise zones vary from the bare minimum to, as one county official described, "giving away the farm.
County Judge Scott Cooper warned that a lot of thought should be given to making the application. "How do you give incentives to new business," he asked rhetorically, "and not give existing businesses like Les Schwab Tire Centers the same?"
Another issue is knowing what the community wants to look like in the future. "Deferring property taxes is a good way if you're going to attract additional major industry," Cooper explained, " but that's not so if you want to attract smaller companies."
Looking at Redmond's enterprise zone, and the incentives that community has agreed on is a good indication, Cooper said, of possibly going to far. Redmond's benefit package includes a three-year, 100 percent property tax exemption for all land and buildings. All fees for eligible businesses are also waived. The problem, Cooper pointed out, is that someone must pay for sewer and water hook-ups, sidewalk permit fees, conditional use permit fees and other administrative and overhead costs.
Madras' enterprise zone, on the other hand, also offers a three-year, 100 percent property tax exemption. But that's about all. Cooper believes that the list of incentives that Prineville/Crook County is willing to offer makes the two county's very competitive, and "behind what Redmond offers. We can't just give up everything. Somebody has to pay for the sewer and water systems. I don't think Prineville is ready for that."
The incentives listed in the local application offers publicly owned lands at a significant cost savings, use of cooperative methods of infrastructure extensions, assistance in land use permitting and an expedited land use permitting process. The most major incentive listed is the direct credits for offsetting certain systems development charges over a period of time rather than payments for such charges "up front."
This is, Cooper pointed out, the bare minimum required by the state for applications. "An enterprise zone is not a 'magic bullet,'" he noted. "There are not magic bullets and I support the city's putting up about what the minimum is to apply."
Mayor Steve Uffelman and the rest of the city council are expected to adopt a resolution indicating city sponsorship of the application tonight, the county court has the matter on their agenda for Wednesday morning.