In light of that information, and because I agree with the content, I have reprinted this letter (with permission) from a parent in our district to the Utah State School Board about the Vineyard URA. I have included everything as sent with the exception of an image file I am unable to upload to this blog. I have also deleted email addresses, phone etc. Thanks to Joel Wright for this letter and his information.
Dear Utah State School Board,
Did you know that on January 18, 2011 you raised taxes by $300 million
in Alpine School District?
Did you know that not one cent of that $300 million will go towards
Most likely you've never heard of this tax increase, and also believe
you never voted for it, but your attorney, Carol Lear, is claiming you
did properly approve and authorize this tax increase because of an
approval Larry Newton received 18 years ago in 1993. (See her email
below as EXHIBIT ONE to this email.)
I will explain the details below. But what I'm really writing to
request is that you reserve 20 minutes at your meeting on February 4,
2011 to get a 10 minute explanation from Larry Shumway and Larry
Newton as to why Larry Newton voted to approve this $300 million tax
increase on January 18, 2011, and also get a 10 minute explanation
from Alpine School District as to why they are absolutely dumbfounded
and horrified by Larry Newton's vote in favor of this tax increase.
In short, here are the undisputed facts:
Anderson Geneva purchased most of the land formerly used by Geneva
Steel in the city of Vineyard on the east coast of Utah Lake in Alpine
School District several years ago.
This land is inarguably "blighted" - meaning the land has extensive
environmental damage that requires remediation before it can be
According to independent evaluations, the cost of cleaning up this
environmental damage is $150 million. No one has produced any
document indicating it will cost more than this amount.
In early 2010, the "Vineyard Urban Redevelopment Agency" (or "Vineyard
URA") was created. The membership of the Vineyard URA consists of the
1. Two members from Alpine School District (Rob Smith and Guy Fugal)
2. Two members from Utah County (Larry Ellertson and Gary Anderson)
3. Two members from Vineyard City (Nathan Riley and Jim Carter)
4. One member appointed by the Utah State Board of Education (Larry Newton)
5. One member appointed by smaller taxing entities (Dave Pitcher from
Central Utah Water)
(You can see the limited minutes and meetings of this body here:
This group met on January 18, 2011, and approved a $300 million
property tax break for the old Geneva site by a vote of 5 to 2 (only
Gary Anderson from Utah County was not present.) Alpine School
District voted against it, and everyone else who was present,
including Larry Newton, voted in favor of it. Because a 2/3 vote was
required to approve the property tax break, any one of the 5 votes
would have stopped it. In other words, Larry Newton's single vote was
enough for it to pass.
Alpine School District was led to believe that Larry Newton would NOT
vote in favor of the property tax break unless Alpine School District
was also willing to vote in favor of it, and was completely shocked by
his vote in favor of it.
I emailed Superintendent Larry Shumway on Monday, January 24, 2011
asking him the following questions, and still have not received a
1. Why did Larry Newton vote in favor of this $300 million property tax break?
2. Why didn't Larry Newton inform Alpine School District that he was
going to vote in favor of the tax break? Why did he have to surprise
3. Did an outside authority (like the Governor) encourage Larry
Shumway or Larry Newton in any way to vote for this tax break? If so,
what were their arguments in favor of it?
(PLEASE SEE THIS EMAIL BELOW AS EXHIBIT TWO.)
At any rate, we are simply mortified by this series of events down
here in Alpine School District, and believe we are at least entitled
to an explanation before we pay an additional $300 million in taxes.
Note also that outside parties like the Utah Taxpayers Association
have reviewed this $300 million tax break, and are completely opposed
to it. To date, everyone opposed to this tax break is willing to talk
at length about why they oppose, but no one who voted in favor of it
is willing to provide any explanation. Furthermore, everyone on both
the right and the left are united in their opposition to this $300
million tax break. This is not a partisan issue.
Please review the materials below, and feel free to call or email me,
or also to call or email anyone at Alpine School District on this very
Finally, the most important thing you can do at this point is bring
sunlight to this matter, and schedule twenty minutes to hear from both
sides at your February 4, 2011 meeting. Note that Larry Newton is
already required under Utah Code 17C-1-402(11) to provide a written
explanation as to why he voted in favor of this $300 million tax
break, so it shouldn't require any additional time for him him to
prepare that write up now, and read it to you at your February 4, 2011
I believe the students, teachers and taxpayers of Alpine School
District deserve nothing less.
Parent of children in Alpine School District
Taxpayer in Alpine School District
LIST OF EXHIBITS:
1. Exhibit One: Email from Carol Lear dated January 26, 2011,
stating Larry Newton was appointed to the Vineyard URA due to what
appear to be minutes from a 1993 State Board of Education meeting.
Copies of those minutes, as well as a 2001 and 2003 letter, are
attached in PDF.
2. Exhibit Two: Email from Joel Wright to Larry Shumway dated
January 24, 2011, asking Superintendent Shumway to explain Larry
Newton's vote in favor of the Vineyard URA. (No response received as
of January 28, 2011)
3. Exhibit Three: Statement from Alpine School District explaining
their opposition to the $300 million tax break.
4. Exhibit Four: Blog Post from Alpine School District Board Member
Wendy Hart explaining her opposition to the $300 million tax break.
5. Exhibit Five: Blog Post from Alpine School District Board Member
Paula Hill explaining her opposition to the $300 million tax break.
6. Exhibit Six: Editorial by Joel Wright (me) that appeared in the
Daily Herald in July 2010 expressing opposition to the $300 million
7. Exhibit Seven: Blog Post from Community Activist Oak Norton
applauding Alpine School District's opposition to the $300 million tax
EXHIBIT ONE: EMAIL FROM CAROL LEAR DATED JANUARY 26, 2011 (relevant
materials attached in PDF):
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Lear, Carol
Date: Wed, Jan 26, 2011 at 5:35 PM
Subject: FW: Scan from a Xerox WorkCentre
To: Joel Wright
Cc: "Hauber, Todd"
Joel--I have two statements, signed by the former State Board Chair,
appointing Larry Newton (Taxing Committee Member) and Cathy Dudley
(alternate Taxing Committee Member). I also have two pages which look
like they are from minutes of a State Board agenda, dated July 14,
1993. I would like clarification that these 2 pages are, indeed,
Board minutes before I say that they are! The Board Secretary is gone
for the day. Even so, given the urgency of your request, I will scan
and email the pages. We haven't yet found a copy of an Agenda
identifying the specific "appointment." But those appointments or
assignments were more informal then; I will follow up tomorrow with an
agenda item (if there was one) during which the assignment took place.
Carol Lear, Records Officer
Utah State Office of Education
EXHIBIT TWO: EMAIL FROM JOEL WRIGHT TO LARRY SHUMWAY DATED JANUARY
24, 2011 (still no response received)
On Mon, Jan 24, 2011 at 10:37 AM, Joel Wright
> Superintendent Shumway,
> As I believe you are aware, on January 18, 2011 the USOE's representative on
> the Vineyard RDA voted to approve a $300 million tax break for the next 35
> years. This is the largest such tax break in the history of Utah, and has a
> number of long term consequences for Alpine School District, where I live
> and have children attending school.
> As I believe you are also aware, the USOE's single vote determined the
> outcome. A two-thirds majority was required for approval, and it passed by
> a vote of 5-2. Had the USOE voted against, it would have failed.
> Because of that, I would be grateful if you could provide me with the
> following information:
> 1. Written explanation of why the USOE voted in favor of the Vineyard RDA.
> When doing so, we would be grateful if you could specifically respond to
> the reasons why the Alpine School District is opposed to the current form of
> the Vineyard RDA here:
> http://www.heraldextra.com/article_7e8bbe7e-25a7-11e0-9839-001cc4c002e0.html In
> addition, further reasons why one individual board member of the Alpine
> School Board is opposed to the current form of the Vineyard RDA can be found
> 2. Why did you "surprise" Alpine School District with your vote?
> Historically, the State Office of Education has always voted with the
> School District on an RDA. Everything Alpine School District had heard from
> you until the vote on January 18, 2011 led them to believe that you would
> still vote against the RDA. Had you informed Alpine School District you
> were going to vote in favor of it, they could have used their vast network
> to contact the Utah County Commissioners and encouraged them to vote
> against. Maybe they should have been doing that anyway, but they are
> currently feeling like they were very much "surprised" by your sudden vote
> in favor of the RDA without any prior warning.
> 3. Did Governor Herbert, or anyone representing the Governor, or anyone
> from one of the Governor's offices, contact you or anyone at USOE before the
> vote on January 18, 2011 and encourage you to vote in favor of the Vineyard
> RDA? If so, can you please share with us who it was, and a summary of the
> reasons they gave to you to vote for the Vineyard RDA?
> Many Thanks,
> Joel Wright
> Taxpayer and Parent in Alpine School District
EXHIBIT THREE: STATEMENT EXPLAINING ALPINE SCHOOL DISTRICT'S
OPPOSITION TO THE $300 MILLION TAX BREAK:
Alpine School District releases statement on Vineyard tax breaks
Posted: Friday, January 21, 2011 2:40 pm
Alpine School District officials on Friday released the following
statement about the recent approval of $300 million in tax breaks for
"Alpine School District did not vote in favor of the Vineyard URA.
District officials are members of the Taxing Entity Committee (TEC)
that voted in a meeting on January 18, 2011, where Alpine School
District voted no to approving the Vineyard URA. The voting members of
the committee were: Vineyard City (2 votes), Utah County (2 votes),
Alpine School District (2 votes), the State School Board (1 vote), and
one representing all other taxing entities (1 vote). There were seven
of the eight members present for the vote. Five voted in favor of
passing the URA, 2 votes - both from Alpine School District - voted
against the URA.
Alpine School District officials had three major concerns with the
original URA proposal:
The length of time - 40 years.
The 400 + acres of residential included in the plan. The taxes on the
homes do not pay for the full cost of the educational services.
The base year used for tax increment calculation was 2006. This was
based on Legislation originally proposed and passed by Senator Curt
Bramble in 2008. The concern that ASD has is that this will negatively
impact all tax payers in Alpine School District.
Members of the URA Proposal Committee met with the ASD Board of
Education in a study session on January 11. The length of time for the
URA had been decreased from 40 years to 35 years. Additionally, there
was discussion about mitigation payment, however, an updated proposal
that included the details about the mitigation was not presented.
A vote was taken one week later. ASD officials continued to vote
against the proposal. With a five out of seven vote in favor of the
proposal, it did pass. Despite the opposition of Alpine School
District officials, we will continue to move forward in working with
EXHIBIT FOUR: FROM WENDY HART, MEMBER OF THE ALPINE SCHOOL BOARD:
SUNDAY, JANUARY 23, 2011
Why Your Property Taxes are Going Up: Vineyard URA
If you live in the Alpine School District, your property taxes are
going to go up. Due to the recent passage of the Vineyard Urban
Redevelopment Agency (URA) project, the county will automatically
adjust the tax rates and increase your property taxes and mine. The
question was whether a commercial entity should receive tax breaks for
the next 35 years in exchange for developing a blighted property.
This may be a good idea for the people of Vineyard, the developer and,
possibly, the state of Utah, but it is a bad idea for the taxpayers of
First, let me give you some background. There are two types of
development projects CDA's (Community Development Agencies, like Adobe
or Micron) and URA's (like Geneva). The main difference is a URA must
develop a blighted area; whereas, a CDA does not. A URA allows a
development group to not pay their normal tax rate (above a certain
threshhold, for a specific time period) and instead use that money to
develop their property. A committee (TEC) of all the taxing entities
(City, County, School District, State Office of Education, etc.) is
formed, and must agree to the proposal by a 2/3 majority. In theory,
we give tax breaks to a development group to improve an area in the
short term, with an increase in taxable value and community and
economic improvement as the long-term gain.
The Vineyard URA comprises the former Geneva Steel property. It
includes areas that are contaminated and structures that would be
costly to remove. The developer has said without the URA monies, they
would simply have to fence about 700 contaminated acres and leave it
alone. Some local legislators feel that without this money, we would
have a big eyesore for decades. The developers and city of Vineyard
agree. But it is a gamble as to whether or not, in 35 years, that
property would be developed. In short, is this a necessary process to
clean-up the former Geneva property, and allow everyone to eventually
Whenever I am faced with a decision, I try to decide which principles
apply. For me, government has no place picking winners and losers in
commercial activities. Some people's politics may allow for government
to be involved in commercial development. Mine, do not. If we give
tax breaks to one group of taxpayers, why not to all the taxpayers?
Having said that, we are forced, by law, to be involved. So, from a
pragmatic point of view, I need to find the best benefit I can to both
the schools of the district and to you, the taxpayers.
Here's how it works. Let's assume the property is worth $1 million
and ASD gets 1% in property taxes, or $10,000/year. With the URA, ASD
will still get their 1% every year of the URA from the developer. But
if in 2 years, the property value increases to $10 million, ASD gets
$10,000 but the developer retains $90,000 to reinvest in development
of the property, and so on. At the end of the URA period, say the
property is worth $1 Billion, then ASD would get their 1% or $10
Million. Every year after that, the property is treated the same as
any other property for tax purposes.
The school board felt this URA was a bad idea for the following
reasons. (Read the official response here.)
First, the state legislature mandated that instead of using current
property value, the URA had to use the property value from 2006. Why
is that important? Because the Geneva property value has gone up. By
using the 2006 value, the legislature gave this developer a greater
tax break. The consequence is that everybody else in the Alpine
School District must now pay higher taxes to make up the difference.
We were told that part of the reason for the 2006 base year was to
allow the developer to have 'seed money' for the development. If the
base year were not set by law to 2006, there would be no additional
burden on the taxpayers. It would just be additional revenues that
would be forfeited.
Second, 35 years is a long time. No one can predict what will occur
over the next 35 years. ASD is growing and has needs right now. Do
we honestly think the greatest demand for that property's revenue
won't be for 35 years in the future? Children who are being born now,
will have graduated from ASD schools, and be sending their kids to
those same schools before the benefit of this project will appear. It
is projected that ASD will lose a total of $200M in revenue over the
35 years. A Daily Herald article says ASD will receive $16
million/year from the Geneva site after the 35 years. $200 M lost /
$16 M year = 12 years to make up the lost revenue after year 35.
Third, the URA includes residential areas. These residences will have
children who will attend school in ASD. Even though ASD will not
receive any funds for those children, ASD will need to accommodate
them in district schools.
Finally, ASD had two independent financial consultants and the Utah
Taxpayers Association run the numbers. All three said the total
amount, length of time and rollback of the base year prevented them
from recommending that ASD sign on to this project. A representative
from the Taxpayers Association said it would cost $150 million to
remove the blight. This would allow the developer to correct the
problem areas, leaving them with usable property. Remember, the URA
was for $300 million. The tax payers are financing $150 million of the
actual development instead of simply making the property usable.
(For a good article on reclaiming the blight, but not subsidizing the
development, go here.)
ASD's two members on the TEC voted against the URA. The two reps from
Vineyard City, one of two from Utah County (one didn't show), one from
the Utah State Board of Education, and the member representing all the
other misc taxing agencies voted in favor of the proposal. As such,
ASD's taxpayers are obligated to go along. (Incidentally, an article
in the Daily Herald incorrectly implied ASD was in favor of the
If you agree this is a good proposal, then you need to do nothing. If
you disagree, you need to contact your legislators and share this
information with your neighbors.
From the legislation, it appears that a resident of Vineyard City can
appeal this URA decision. Do you know anyone who lives in Vineyard
City? I think this decision should be appealed.
Also, there is proposed legislation this session rolling back the
URA/CDA approval process from 2/3 majority to a simple majority. This
bill would result in even more unfair situations similar to the Geneva
property. ASD would be forced to participate in more URAs at the
additional cost burden to the average resident. I would recommend you
contact your legislators to oppose this legislation. They need to
understand the current situation in which you can be taxed without
your consent and without an appeals process.
To me this is a case of government redistributing your tax dollars.
ASD, or rather you and I and our schools, will be on the hook for many
of the 'tax breaks' over this period of time. My question to you is
"Will it be worth it?"
*Sen. Curt Bramble, a proponent of this project, authored legislation
that changed how CDA's and URA's operated. For the most part, I agree
with the legislation. It changed the approval process from a simple
majority to a 2/3 majority and gave the school districts more autonomy
and say. It also greatly limited the definition of a blighted area.
In the past, a broken fence or a dead tree limb could be construed as
blight. For a URA, all taxing entities must participate. For a CDA,
taxing entities must opt in to participate (Rep. John Dougall's
legislation); they are excluded by default from CDA projects. What I
disagree with is additional legislation (Bramble) setting the base tax
year for this particular project to 2006 (one year after the site was
EXHIBIT FIVE: FROM ALPINE SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER PAULA HILL:
About the Vineyard URA, or tax benefit to develop the old Geneva
property, the short answer to your questions is that we got skunked.
The Board and the District agreed that the demands were too stiff, and
both sides were maneuvering for the best terms. We worked with a
committee from Utah County, the town of Geneva, Alpine School
District, the Utah State Office of Education, a representative of all
other taxing entities such as the water district, and an at-large
member. Three votes would stop it, and we felt confident that ASD and
the USOE member held a strong hand.
Oops. They called a vote, the USOE voted in favor, and it was suddenly
The longer answer, although not very technical, is that the developer
needed tax breaks to be able to accomplish the massive clean-up and
build the ambitious commercial/residential design sitting on the
drawing board. The proposal was exciting and attractive, but the
concessions asked were pretty generous. In particular Alpine School
District was resisting the unheard of length of time, 40 years, and
the residential component, where property taxes from the 2300 housing
units projected would be reinvested with the development while the
district would still be required to educate the children from those
The third problem was the roll-back, or using the tax base from 2006,
before the power plant was built, when the property was worth
considerably less. Representative Curt Bramble, Provo, passed a bill
rolling back the tax rate for the property, which had the effect of
raising the tax rate on the entire district. Now that the
redevelopment is moving forward, watch for your next tax bill to
reflect a $15-17 increase for the average household for a private
developer to make big money improving the town of Geneva with your tax
Anderson Development had scaled back to 35 years (that’s still two
generations of school children) and was preparing other mitigations
when the bargaining was suddenly all over. While this is certainly
political, it seems that each party was doing his job in representing
the interests of those they worked with. We will all enjoy driving
along I-15 and seeing a charming little development in place of
blight. But I do not understand the roll-back, nor the USOE abandoning
I wrote earlier about seeing two columns, one for what we get and one
for what we give. The money guys have done this, and the conservative
estimate is that this deal will immediately cost ASD $30 million. Boo,
EXHIBIT SIX: EDITORIAL WRITTEN BY ME (JOEL WRIGHT) IN JULY 2010 ON THIS TOPIC:
Developers frequently ask school districts to assist in the
redevelopment of land. The developer typically asks the school
district to provide property tax rebates to the developer's project,
which decreases the costs of the project, making it more economically
feasible (or profitable). The justification given for the tax rebate
is that the project will generate more tax revenue in the future for
the school district, so the school district should "invest" in the
project by giving the developer a tax rebate.
Possibly the largest such tax rebate in the history of Utah ($300
million) has recently been requested from Alpine School District by
Anderson Development through the town of Vineyard for the proposed
redevelopment of the old Geneva Steel site. Based on my read of the
Utah Taxpayers Association's review of the request, I believe the
Alpine School Board should support approximately half of the proposed
$300 million rebate through a redevelopment agency (or "RDA"), but the
second half is not justified and should be rejected by the Alpine
When evaluating a proposed redevelopment project, school boards should
ask two questions. First, does the land have negative value? That is,
would a developer have to pay someone to transfer ownership in the
property? If the answer to that question is, "Yes," then an RDA may be
The second question is this: if the RDA is not approved, will the
transactions on the redeveloped site take place in the greater
community? If the answer to this question is, "No," an RDA can also be
appropriate. Unlike most RDAs, the Geneva RDA has elements relating to
The former Geneva site is riddled with useless infrastructure, from
deep concrete bunkers to tainted dirt. These relics of the steel plant
have imposed negative value on the property. Based on Anderson
Development's projections, about $150 million worth of the
improvements contemplated in this RDA are necessary to bring the site
to a condition comparable to other greenfield sites. That much of the
proposed RDA is appropriate, and should be approved. Without such
approval, the land could remain any eyesore for generations to come,
and harm the economic development of Utah County.
But Anderson Development is apparently not content with that level of
taxpayer investment. They want the Alpine School Board and other
taxing entities to grant another $150 million in taxpayer subsidies
for their project. This additional investment by the taxpayer is not
justified because the transactions contemplated by that investment
will occur in the greater community, whether or not this Geneva RDA is
Over the 40-year term of this RDA, Anderson Development hopes to build
office parks, retail space and housing. Whether labeled as
residential, office space or storefront, all the development
contemplated in this portion of the Geneva RDA is retail. Tax
subsidies do not stimulate retail economic activity; rather, they
rearrange which city reaps the sales taxes associated with the retail
If the Alpine School Board participates in the second $150 million of
the Geneva RDA, the district will get nothing in return. Consumers
won't increase their spending because of the new retail location.
Every transaction in the proposed Geneva RDA will occur somewhere in
the greater community without that subsidy. The transactions may be in
Lehi or Orem, but they will occur. In other words, if the Alpine
School Board approves the second $150 million request, they will
essentially be shifting millions of dollars from existing cities and
businesses in the Alpine School District to the city of Vineyard and
Anderson Development. So, while this request clearly makes sense for
both Vineyard and Anderson Development, it does not make sense for all
the other cities and businesses in the district.
The plight of the Cottonwood Mall illustrates the folly of retail RDAs
like the second half of the Geneva RDA. Almost two years ago, the
Granite School Board approved an RDA to subsidize the redevelopment of
the Cottonwood Mall. The Cottonwood Mall proposal would have used
nearly $100 million over 20 years to facilitate retail, office space
and residential units.
Although the subsidies were approved, no redevelopment of the
Cottonwood Mall has taken place. The reason for the failure is simple:
tax subsidies do not change the amount of consumer spending. They
merely move an economic transaction from one place to another. They
spur no new economic activity.
In summary, the Alpine School Board should separate the proposed
Geneva RDA into two $150 million pieces. The piece that eliminates the
site's negative value is appropriate, and the Alpine School Board
should participate. The second piece, which subsidizes economic
activity that would happen without the subsidy, is inappropriate, and
the School Board should reject it.
• Joel Wright, of Cedar Hills, is an attorney.
EXHIBIT SEVEN - blog post from Oak Norton:
KUDOS to ASD’s Board
January 26th, 2011
To the Alpine School District Board,
I know we periodically find ourselves at odds but I am very pleased to
find us on the same side in the issue of the Vineyard Urban
Redevelopment Agency. I understand that in the recent vote, your
position was outvoted by others who would financially benefit by the
arrangement. I also understand that taxpayers within the school
district will be on the hook for a couple hundred million dollars over
the next 35 years. This is the classic case of democratic majority
rule where 2 wolves and a sheep vote on what to have for dinner. The
rest of the committee appears to benefit by saddling the rest of the
district taxpayers with their development. I was quite surprised to
hear that the representative from the state office of education didn’t
vote with the school district. That seems quite odd and opens up
questions into how they arrived at their position.
Short of a successful legal challenge, there may not be a lot that can
be done to prevent this injustice. However, I would like to suggest
something for your consideration.
Vineyard voted to pass their hundreds of millions of dollars of
development costs and developer tax breaks on to the school district
taxpayers’ while we continue to pay for their children to be educated.
It seems appropriate to return the favor and publicly announce that at
your next board meeting you will be discussing the possibility of
splitting Vineyard off as a separate school district. This doesn’t
have to be a serious consideration, just a warning shot across the bow
that help Vineyard realize they’re affecting the lives of many
citizens outside their town. Taxation without proportional
representation has a downside when others choose to dissociate
themselves from them.
The County may have *some* limited responsibility to clean up the site
but giving massive tax breaks to the developer after that is entirely
Taxpayers aren’t going to be excited about cleaning up Vineyard,
giving massive tax breaks to a developer, and paying for a brand new
bond in ASD. Thank you for standing for fiscal responsibility and not
taking important future revenue from the ASD.
Oak Norton, Utah’s Republic
END OF ALL EXHIBITS AND THIS EMAIL