The Granite Board of Education gave tentative support to a project that would reclaim Decker Lake and create an economic development area surrounding it, although the district would lose more than $1 million in tax revenues for 12 years because of the project.
The board voted to support the concept of the development proposal but had several questions it wants answered before jumping fully onto the Decker Lake bandwagon. The district's support is critical because of tax breaks that would be offered to encourage companies to locate in the area.The 32-acre lake in the center of Salt Lake Valley's midsection has become an eyesore and a potential health hazard. A combination of private and government entities propose dredging the lake, developing a wetlands nature area, upgrading roads and enhancing business potential.
Funding, now estimated to top $5 million - possibly more - has been assured by West Valley City, Salt Lake County, businesses in the area and several federal and state agencies that would benefit from the plan.
West Valley officials and citizens promoting the reclamation project sought the Granite District's support Tuesday evening. They particularly urged the school district to consider the educational benefits that would be available to students if an outdoor wetlands "lab" were developed.
"We want the kids to be involved," said Diane Lehmann, a citizen who has pushed for a resolution to the Decker Lake problem for several years.
Some of the board members were skeptical, based on past history. "This is not the first time governments have banded together to solve the Decker Lake problem," said Lynn Davidson. "They have probably spent $5 million already. It was nice for a while, then allowed to deteriorate again."
His fellow board member, Dean Knight, questioned the commitment of local businesses to financially support the development.
"That's the thing we're least concerned about," said Kathy Bugg-Riley, who also has worked as a private citizen to promote the cleanup. Several large companies, including Franklin Quest, have an interest in upgrading the area, she said.
The board also expressed concern that the projected amount of tax loss to the district seems to be rising as the plans go forward. Several board members, contacted individually by promoters, were told the loss would amount to about a half million dollars, said Judy Larson. Tuesday night, the figure had escalated to more than $1 million.
"That concerns me," Larson said.
Board President Robert Arnold also voiced his concern that the state owns property at the south end of the tract targeted for redevelopment. "They are looking for prison sites," he said. The Decker Lake youth correctional facility already is on the site, he said. It is likely that the state will look for a trade for land elsewhere in the valley, West Valley officials said.
West Valley representatives Ed Collins and Bob Buchanan said the project could proceed without the board's sanction, but "without it there, we don't want to do the project. We need your support." A member of the school board will be invited to sit on the development's oversight committee, they said.
The board gave tacit approval and directed staff to look more closely at possible effects on the district before full support will be offered.