(KCPW News) Two years after being restructured, redevelopment agencies are once again under scrutiny at the Legislature. Utah Taxpayers Association President and Salt Lake County Senator Howard Stephenson says school boards have proven they can't be trusted with taxpayers' money. His case in point: the Cottonwood Mall redevelopment project.
"As a taxpayer, I'm not willing to allow school boards to opt into a project like that, which virtually takes learning out of the brains of children, so someone can avoid having a strip mall in their community, and can have more of an upscale project," Stephenson says.
The Granite School District approved the redevelopment project, which would divert more than $50 million in property taxes from its budget to replace the old mall with a new mixed-used retail and affordable housing complex.
Stephenson says RDAs are effective when used to attract high-paying corporations to the state. But he believes using the economic development tool for retail developments is a misuse of taxpayer money, saying this type of development would have occurred anyway. Representative Carol Spackman Moss agrees. However, the Holladay Democrat says there's more to consider.
"I think this notion of they will come and things will be developed is perhaps true, but is it the kind of development cities and communities want. And I think that is a point to be considered," Moss says.
In 2006, the Legislature passed a new law to give school districts more power over RDA developments. According to Stephenson, school districts have almost unanimously approved $100 million in RDA projects this year. Most of these, he claims, are retail developments.