Salt Lake County continues to grow steadily, and there are few amenities more soothing or invigorating to a metropolitan area than parks, historical preservations and trails. With interest rates low, there may never be a better time to use public money to build such projects.
For these reasons, we urge voters in Salt Lake County to say yes to Proposition 1. It would allow the county to borrow $47 million to build regional parks in Bluffdale, Draper and the West Valley City/Kearns area. The county also has promised to buy land for a future park in the Magna area and to build a substantial portion of the Jordan River Parkway Trail and Parley's Trail, which would effectively connect a massive trail system throughout the Salt Lake Valley. The Wheadon Farm Park in Draper would be preserved, teaching future generations how farms once operated in the valley.
The bond would raise taxes by an estimated $5.73 per year on a home valued at $238,000, which is a bargain considering all it would buy.
However, our recommendation comes with a note of caution. Every time a government builds a park, trail or facility of any sort, it creates a need to maintain that facility. The projects this bond would fund are expected to add more than a half-million dollars in new yearly maintenance obligations — money that is not allocated as part of the bond and that is not currently budgeted by the county.
We are especially concerned about this because county officials have confirmed to us that about $200 million worth of deferred maintenance needs exist countywide. These include everything from painting or repairing aging buildings to replacing vehicles.
Elected county officials must become serious about meeting this need. So far, they have made efforts to meet only a portion of the backlog. Originally, Mayor Peter Corroon wanted the bond to include a portion for maintenance, but the County Council rejected that idea. It's always easier to sell the notion of buying a shiny new thing than it is to sell the idea of paying to keep it looking new — just as it's more fun to buy a new car than to budget for gas, oil and repairs. But maintenance can be put off only so long before the declining quality of government amenities begins to reduce their effectiveness.
Under different economic conditions, the maintenance deficit would be enough to change our recommendation. However, low interest rates and a burgeoning county population make this an ideal time to construct regional parks. The 2010 Census was the first in which Salt Lake County passed the 1 million mark in population. During the decade preceding that year, the county grew by 14.6 percent. While no one can predict the future, there is little reason to believe growth will stop. As construction continues, available park land will disappear. Once it is gone, it is gone for good.
Now is the time to preserve it. Now also is the time to develop a comprehensive plan for catching up on the county's deferred maintenance needs.