Friday, August 21, 2009

ANOTHER TAX DOLLAR, ANOTHER DEAL

The headlines in a major newspaper reads; “S.L. Redevelopment Agency pushes deli out of business.”

For the uninformed, a redevelopment agency, which is a political subdivision, is allowed to use taxpayer dollars, to buy up buildings or property, and then work a sweetheart deal for a developer. The developer usually buys the property at less than market value, and the City or County work deals on property taxes, impact fees, property trades and so forth.

After reading this headline, curiosity was very high, to see if something very similar to an RDA, had been worked in Heber valley. Lo and behold, there has been a few. Some very obvious and others not too well known.

Wasatch County got themselves in a nifty one. As citizens know, there are plans to complete a Rec. Center. But many are unaware, as to how it all came about. As the story goes, supported by contracts, a group of developers bought an old food processing property. They paid approximately four plus million dollars. Then a deal was worked out, with the County and the developer. It was decided the County would buy a building on the property for six million dollars plus, with the idea, that if it did not work out, the County could sell the building and recoup their costs. Things have worked out. The County is going to spend an unknown amount to complete the Rec. Center, and the developer has used his two million profit, to construct offices and other businesses in the front of the Rec. Center. And even the City, in which the project is found, worked their magic, and pushed things through the process, at blazing speed, to make an accommodation or two.
This deal, as it worked out, would cause any RDA to blush.

Not to be outdone, Heber City started working with a developer, who was allowed to make their own plans, even wrote an ordinance to support their plan, and then given complete control over the project. The promise from the developer was, lots of tax revenue, impact fees, upgrading of water and sewer lines and so forth. Heber City spent money having their staff work with the developer, represented the developer before other city agencies, reduced certain charges on the pretext, that in the end, the money would come back. If the developer did not like a current ordinance, that ordinance was either ignored or a new one written to cover the proposed need. Money was spent, deals were made. The developer was allowed to back out of some deals, make changes and modifications, that were not only different than the original proposal, but would give less than promised. No one, has a clue, as to the actually cost, both now and in the future. No one has a clue, as to what, if any, will be the revenues generated. But the City was willing to give the key to the City to this developer and also, give them a seat at the table of decision. Any RDA worth their salt, when viewing this situation, would be drunk with envy.

Not to be left out, in demonstrating how tax supported institution can get even closer to developers, Midway City, worked one of the greatest sweetheart deals of their history. A developer came to the City with a plan to build a store. The site selected, was not large enough to accommodate the plans, yet it was deemed a good place, and to make it even better, Midway City gave a piece of their City Park, so the size would be sufficient. The developer did not have sufficient financial wherewith, to fully start and finish the project, but he came to a good City, who was more than welling to do anything, yes, anything, to get this business started and up and running, on the pretext it would create jobs and provide necessary services.
Midway City gathered themselves up, and started making appearances on the “give-me circuit“. They made appearances before the County, Heber City, the Sewer District and the School District, all with the idea, that required fees and taxes, not be required. In fact, there was even discussion of receiving money from the various agencies, and some responded, so Midway City could give it to the developer, so he could get his project on track. This went on for some time, and citizens need to know, what some agencies did, not only by giving tax dollars to this project, but used their power to remove the requirement to pay certain costs and impact fees. YOUR MONEY, YOUR TAX DOLLARS, spent and given as if the agencies had a right and an open check book.
It is quite obvious, that in our Valley, we do not need an RDA. We already have those who believe it is their roll to spend your dollars, in support of what ever they deem is “a good deal”. Of course, the question must always be asked, “a good deal” for whom.

Monday, August 10, 2009

THE PRIORITY OF PRIORITIES

The political selling season is now upon us. Within the next few weeks and months, the citizens can expect to hear all kinds of little statements, some factual, and some totally lacking in actualities. These statements, will be used to frame a campaign and hopefully sell a candidate to the public.

One must ask a very simple question of the incumbents. “If you have not successfully completed some of your priorities in the last four years, what assurance will the voters have, that you can do any better in the coming four years?”

In one town, the Mayor and part of the council ran on a platform full of ideas and priorities. One such priority was the controlling of growth , and if any growth took place, making sure it would have some meaning and value for those already living in the town.
The citizens accepted a list of priorities that included the growth issue, with the expectation, that a word on the issue by their home town politicians was as good as a signed contract. It shortly became obvious, the priority of growth with purpose, as promised, was not really part of their leadership plan. The opposite took place with most of the politicians cheering and cart wheeling on the side lines over growth, when they were not representing developers. Now these same people are running again, and as in the previous start, a list of priorities is being presented to the people, and yes, you guessed it, on the short list is “growth with a purpose”. Of course, this exact wording may not be found on the list, since each one of the incumbents, must now sell themselves once again to the public, so this issue is framed in feel good words and phases.. But everyone should remember, if purposeful growth was not accomplished in the last four years, it is quite likely, no such thing will be happening in the up coming four years, if the same group gets back in..

In another town, the list of priorities is also coming out. And like the previous town, they sound wonderful and are geared to make citizens feel warm and fuzzy. But they seem, from previous experience, to be just talking points. Hope may spring eternal for many, but citizens must fully understand, another four years, by all accounts, will not produce any more success on the important issues. If the current leaders did not produce on what was promised, there is something wrong. They had 1460 days to make good on the promises they were so quick to make while seeking your vote.

In this other city, one of the priorities seems to center on traffic and traffic control. But citizens need to remember, this issue was on the list from the last four years, and since that election cycle, traffic control plans have been non-existent. When traffic concerns were brought up by the people, and experts on traffic, with a myriad of studies, the whole issue was brushed off, and the those making their concerns known, were dismissed as “chicken littlies“. Comments by the elected ones and those they appointed, went on to say, that sounding the alarm on this issue was unnecessary, since there was no need to worry until 2030. Well, 2030 is not here yet, and traffic is out of control, and once again, it is election time, and yes, once again, the people are hearing as part of the priorities of the incumbents, “we need to control traffic and make a plan.
No one should forget, that for many years, there was a plan, but in the last few years, the plan was kicked around, laughed at and modified with careless strokes, to the point, that it seems to have little value if any at all.

The season of “the priority of priorities” is upon us. We will hear lots of promises. Many incumbents and maybe some others as well, may need to stretch the truth, to make the point of how serious their particular priority is.

Value in a pudding is always in the taste, and right now, this pudding of growth and traffic, is very bitter. The big question for all voters in every city, and town is this: If they did not live up to the promises of the last four years, is it believable they will change in the next four years if re-elected? This is an issue of accountability. Every incumbent, needs to be scrutinized and held accountable for their failures and praised for their successes. But by no means, should a simple success on one issue, remove them from being held accountable on promises made, but not kept, on another.

For one town, the priority is growth, for another, it is traffic. But in reality, whether you live in one town or another, in this season of selling, one should remember, the current group had their hands on the controls, but still could not get the car in gear on these issues. For the next four years on the issues of traffic and growth, the people need those who can smoke the tires and get up to speed. Does it sound like we need new drivers?