The Eugene City Council has extended the suspension of the controversial Multiple-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) for a second time, which means it might not grant more tax breaks for as long as a year. MUPTE allows City Council to grant 10-year property tax waivers to housing developers in the downtown area. It has come under increasing public scrutiny since granting large property tax waivers to student housing companies Capstone and Core Campus. Under the new suspension ordinance, MUPTE could remain dormant until July 31, 2014.
In anticipation of the Aug. 31, 2013, date when the suspension was set to expire, neighborhood advocate and MUPTE critic Paul Conte began work on the initiative process to craft a 2014 ballot measure terminating the MUPTE program. Opponents of MUPTE say that the program isn’t being used to spur the type of development that Eugeneans want, and concerns of the public are ignored.
Conte says that whether he moves forward with the initiative depends on what Eugeneans think should happen. “With that ballot measure ready for signature collection at any time, and the MUPTE program suspended for almost another year, I’ll work this fall to organize a community-based discussion of what should be done,” he says. At their July 24 work session, city councilors echoed the desire to include stakeholders in the decision.
If the MUPTE program is to remain in place, Conte says, the community should determine for what kinds of projects these tax breaks are granted. “One thing is certain, decisions on these important taxation and housing policies should not remain in the hands of Jon Ruiz and his pro-developer staff,” he says. “If necessary, the potential ballot initiative can make sure of that.”
Some councilors, most vocally Mike Clark and George Poling, expressed concern at the work session that MUPTE reforms wouldn’t be made in time to grant more tax breaks by the summer 2014 construction season. Councilor George Brown wanted to set the sunset date of the suspension at Jan. 31, 2014, to force the council to work more quickly to finish the ordinance. But others, including Councilor Chris Pryor, urged councilors to focus on the best possible outcome instead of the worst and to try to finish before the July expiration date that staff suggested. The City Council voted 5-1 to set the date in July 2014, with Clark in the minority and Councilors Greg Evans and Alan Zelenka absent.