Flushed: School RDA Money Wasted On Bountiful Pet Project

A primmer on how to triple the cost of a special interest project:

I just learned that Bountiful City has quietly managed a scheme to take over $2.4 million of RDA (tax) money that should have been used for projects that enhance economic development and increase the tax base. The tax revenues that have been lost because of this would have gone to our public schools.

Rather than creating new businesses that pay taxes, the Council will use the $2.4 to transform the current city hall into an arts center and museum. Of course both of these are tax exempt entities that will be housed in tax exempt buildings. In addition, both will require ongoing tax subsidies for the operation and maintenance of the facilities so rather than being tax revenue producers they will be tax revenue consumers.

It get’s better: the city will also take $4.8 million from reserves to build a new city hall in spite of the fact that the current city hall is newer than many homes in Bountiful and is in good enough shape to be converted to a museum and arts center. That puts us at $7.2 million in tax money. Furthermore, as the only reason the new city hall is being built is for the arts center, realistically, the art center has cost taxpayers $7.2 million (tripling project cost).

Be aware, as well, that not that long ago, the museum was only supposed to cost us $750K with another $750K raised by donations (a total of $1.5 million). That facade didn’t last long nor did the cost. Based on the original estimate, the cost jumped 480%.

Here’s how they did it: First, the city council and mayor changed current RDA boundaries to encompass the old art center and declared it “blighted”. Later, they decided to move the arts center and museum into the current city hall and replace the current arts building with a brand, new multimillion dollar city hall. This required another change in the RDA so it would encompass the current city hall. It also required declaring city hall”blighted” (despite it only being 35 years old). Part of the justification for the “blighted” designation is that the city hall building doesn’t have new technology components.

Besides effectively taking millions in taxes that should have been used to increase the tax base for schools, the council did so with little public information – I believe the Standard Examiner had a few reports, but the city never reported the new city hall or any of the RDA trickery until after the decision (with a small inset in the May newsletter).

Furthermore, the “blight” justification should raise a big red flag as most homes would fit their designation (including mine) simply due to age and lack of ‘technology infrastructure’, which would allow the city to declare most of Bountiful blighted and ‘redevelop’ those areas (especially after the Kelo decision).

As far as I’m concerned, the methods they employed are underhanded and set a bad precedent.

UPDATE: Here’s a couple of reports worth reading on RDAs in Utah if you want to brush up on the subject.  Note the bait and switch documented in the 2006 League of Women Voters report (cities gave up power and took it back by tightening the law and adding in new wording to maintain power – see “Community Development Track”).  Curt Bramble ran the legislation written by…The Utah League of Cities and Towns.

A Utah Community Action Partnership Association Report – Redevelopment Agencies and Housing in Utah

League of Women Voters Of Utah – Redevelopment Agency Study


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