Bluffdale officials at odds with school district over bond vote

Posted at 9:26 PM, Nov 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-04 23:26:29-05

BLUFFDALE -- A small town has come out in opposition of its local school district.

Bluffdale’s mayor and city council are urging citizens to vote against a $495 million bond, saying the tax burden is simply too much.

But a spokesperson from the Jordan School District says the bond is absolutely necessary to build new schools for the already overcrowded district.

Bluffdale Mayor Derk Timothy said because of higher property values, people in his town will pay more for the bond, as high as $45 a month, versus the $25 paid by the average taxpayer in the district.

It's such a heated issue that Salt Lake County's District Attorney Sim Gill has become involved, with serious allegations made by Bluffdale city leaders and the president of the Jordan School District school board.

Timothy said there’s no question that the Jordan district is overcrowded.

“We agree that there needs to be schools built,” Timothy said. “There’s no question about that.”

But it’s the nearly half-billion-dollar bond that has the mayor and city council members concerned.

“Just too excessive,” Timothy said. “It’s too much money for the taxpayers to bear.”

Timothy said he worked with the council to write a letter that was posted to Facebook and mailed to Bluffdale’s 8,000 residents last week, saying, “The proposed $495 million bonds are excessive and unjustified. We recommend that our residents vote “NO” on this bond request.”

The letter goes on to say the district is not fiscally responsible, and has been misleading about the actual terms of the bond.

They call it a five-year bond, but it’s not a bond you pay off in five years, it’s a bond you spend in five years,” Timothy said.

The letter elicited a rapid response from Richard Osborne, president of the school board (also posted to Facebook) saying, “I am extremely disappointed to learn that you have sent a letter containing irresponsible and misleading information about the bond proposal to Bluffdale citizens.”

Jordan School District Spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said the district’s per- square-foot construction costs are well below the national and regional averages.

“I would argue that, absolutely, we’re being fiscally responsible,” Riesgraf said. “And we’re in the top four school districts in the state for using tax money responsibly.”

Riesgraf added residents won’t pay the tax until the district starts selling bonds, and the tax burden will incrementally build, peak, and then decline as the loan is paid over a 15-year period.

The district will use the money to pay for the construction of 11 new schools, the renovation of two other schools and 34 safety upgrades across the district.

“We’re building schools that are built to last,” Riesgraf said. “They’re built for safety and durability. Our schools are built to last for 70 years.”

“My reward would be to see the taxpayers not have to pay this much for a bond,” Timothy said.

Osborn also accused Bluffdale city leaders of breaking the law in his letter.

“It is equally upsetting to learn you have no regard for the Utah Election Code, which prohibits cities from using public money to influence a ballot proposition,” Timothy stated in his letter to the city.

Timothy said no city money was used, but the letter mailed to Bluffdale residents was paid for out-of-pocket by him and the city council.

Gill said he is aware of the allegations but his office is not investigating the issue at this time.