With a proposal to allow cities or counties to use a property tax increase to fund economic and community development projects, Salt Lake County Auditor Sean Thomas added to the mix of proposals for revamping redevelopment agency rules Thursday.

The proposal from Thomas now joins a separate idea from the Utah League of Cities and Towns that would provide three options for cities pursuing RDA projects. There are also many groups, from corporate advocates to school districts, with suggestions for improving the process and the funding for RDAs.

The proposal came at the opening of a symposium, sponsored by the Utah Intergovernmental Roundtable at the Delta Center's International Room, that was looking at whether consensus was possible in the RDA debate. Based on the often wide chasms between interested parties, members of a panel discussing the issue agreed that compromise, not consensus, may be a better goal.

"We've got to compromise because if we don't, we have the status quo. And the status quo is unacceptable," said Larry Newton, budget director for the State Office of Education.

The "status quo" includes changes made during last year's legislative session through a bill sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, that eliminated the ability of cities to use eminent domain for RDAs and placed a one-year moratorium on RDAs with a retail focus.

Those retail-oriented projects are often criticized by legislators, citizen activists and other taxing entities as zero-sum games in which one city simply takes retail from a neighboring city. In the process, schools and special districts lose revenue because of the incremental taxing which that devotes the revenue generated by the RDA back to the area in diminishing sums over the life of the project.

"The war for retail is kind of like Middle Eastern tribes stealing each other's camels," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who is also president of the Utah Taxpayer's Association, which is primarily funded by businesses. When one city gets a major retailer at the expense of their its neighbor, "there isn't one more shoe sold. It's just the same camels being stolen." stolen," he said.

Lincoln Shurtz, legislative analyst with the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said that while there are some problems with RDAs that need to be addressed — especially accountability and abuses of the blight definition — the overall idea is essential to cities that want to grow. Additionally, the growth of a city is essential to improving the tax base for both the local government and the state.

"We need to allow cities to continue to develop their community," he said.


E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com