Will politics hurt ammo plant plans?

Riverbank's political indigestion could affect the city's redevelopment goals.

City leaders hope to reinvent the former Army ammunition plant as a business center. On Monday, City Council members agreed on a plan to promote 320 acres at the city's southeast corner using redevelopment money. Council members Dave White, Jesse James White and Sandra Benitez voted yes. Councilman Danny Fielder was absent.

The plan requires permission from Stanislaus County supervisors because 175 of those acres have yet to be annexed to the city.

And Supervisor Bill O'Brien, a former Riverbank mayor, doesn't like what's happened to the City Council since he left five years ago.

"Everyone on both sides needs to stop being childish and take care of business," O'Brien said Monday, noting dueling recall drives aimed at warring factions on the troubled council. Two mayors have resigned and moved away this year.

"I don't want to get in the middle because it's complete nonsense," O'Brien said. "There are bigger issues at stake that need to be addressed rather than playing games."

"We're having political turmoil, to put it lightly," acknowledged City Manager Rich Holmer. He said O'Brien appears to be "playing his chess pieces" with the redevelopment issue.

If approved, the larger redevelopment area would allow Riverbank to upgrade the ammunitions plant site and nearby neighborhoods, resulting in higher property values and more taxes, some of which would be shared with the county. Neighboring homes are deteriorating and prone to street flooding, a report says.

But the county could take a $1.43 million hit in the short term from collecting fewer property taxes, according to a county analysis.

County leaders agreed to a similar arrangement four years ago, allowing Riverbank to "borrow" 92 unincorporated acres for a redevelopment area. Lost taxes from both areas could drain a combined $2.16 million from the county, the analysis warns.

However, a Roseville consultant working for Riverbank said redevelopment money would "spur private sector investment," benefiting areas outside the city as well as within. The result could add $1.2 million to county coffers, a report says.

"In reality, as the property tax increases, the county gets a larger share back," said Tim Ogden, the city's economic development director.

O'Brien said he will ask hard questions at today's county supervisors meeting, demanding accountability for how Riverbank has spent previous redevelopment dollars. O'Brien noted a $544,000 fountain at the city's entrance and a $15 million downtown streets project.

"I don't want my fingerprints on a $544,000 waterfall," O'Brien said. "It's only fair that (Riverbank's redevelopment request) is completely aired out in front of the Board of Supervisors since we'd be giving up some of our tax dollars. They need to tell us why it's such a great deal."

Ogden said the waterfall used $40,000 of redevelopment money, with $350,000 coming from a federal grant for transportation enhancement and the rest from developer fees. "It's all legitimate money," Ogden said.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.

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