Urban redevelopment agencies that have been used to revitalize the decaying cores of Utah cities are under attack, members of the Wasatch Front Regional Council were warned last week.
Several mayors and city officials from Wasatch Front cities said the future of redevelopment agencies - called RDAs - is cloudy because state lawmakers are listening to unfounded criticism of the agencies.RDAs have been critical to efforts to rebuild the downtown and core areas of cities, the officials said. They plan to counter the attacks on RDAs with lobbying efforts in the upcoming legislative session through the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
North Ogden Mayor A. Bruce Durstelersaid his city's RDA has been a major means of improving his community, a sentiment echoed by several other mayors, city council members and administrators attending the council meeting.
"But elsewhere around the state, there seems to be a movement to shut down the RDAs or change their legal status," Dursteler warned. "I would like to see RDAs be improved without negating their impact."
Sandy Mayor Larry Smith said a major opponent to RDAs is the education lobby.
When property is put into a designated redevelopment district, it is removed from the property rolls. Taxes, often reduced to far-below-normal levels to attract developers, are paid back to the redevelopment agency, which uses the money to pay off revenue bonds issued to finance property acquisition and other improvements, such as water and sewer upgrades, invested in the district.
It is the removal of the property from tax rolls that has sparked opposition from the education lobby, according to city officials. Some county officials are also opposed to RDAs because they reduce property tax revenue to counties.
Smith agreed there may be some abuses by RDAs, such as declaring raw land blighted to include it in a redevelopment project, but he said the program should be modified and requirements tightened, not killed off.
Councilman Kay Chandler of Clearfield said he just returned from a weeklong trip to the East Coast, talking to businesses about relocating into his city's Freeport Center.
"All 11 of the manufacturing plants we talked to asked about redevelopment agencies. They all asked about what the RDAs could do for them. They're vital to any economic development effort on the part of the state," said Chandler.
Randy Sant, Washington Terrace City administrator, said he's been lobbying for RDAs in the Legislature for the past four years.
"The legislators are asking for an audit of the RDA program because of citizen requests, requests that are coming in from off the Wasatch Front," Sant told the council.
"The Legislature needs to become more familiar with RDAs and what they do, how they operate. We need to prepare to deal with the misperceptions around RDAs and how they operate," Sant said.
"I believe RDAs work just fine as they are now. If new laws are introduced or RDAs are modified, the RDA officials should have a hand in how it's done.
"The changes made by the Legislature in 1983 are still hurting us badly," Sant said. "We've had to get very creative in our financing since then, and it's hurt."
"RDAs are one of the chief benefits we have in our economic development effort in the state," Sant told the council members.