Salt Lake County voters to decide fate of parks and trails tax plan

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 7 2012 6:31 p.m. MDT

Jordan River Parkway Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Voters in Salt Lake County will decide whether to vote for a property tax increase to fund $47 million for parks and trails over 20 years.

The County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to place the proposal on the ballot this November. Earlier this year, Salt Lake Mayor Peter Corroon had proposed a $110 million plan, which was criticized by a several council members for its size.

Prior to Tuesday's vote, several council members complimented Corroon for his willingness to compromise and bring forward a smaller tax and less ambitious plan.

"Thanks for listening to us," said Salt Lake County Councilman Michael Jensen. "If the voters want to vote this up or down, I'm OK with the size of this bond."

The bond would be used to buy land for parks and trails, with an eye on future needs in the rapidly growing southwest part of the county.

Approximately $11.5 million would be spent to complete three unfinished segments of the Jordan River Trail. When completed, the trail would run along the river from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake.

Another $10 million would be spent for a regional park in the county's southwest quadrant. About $5.5 million is planned for the purchase of land owned by ATK Hercules for development of a park in the future.

For the owner of a home valued at $238,000, property taxes would increase about $5 a year for the life of the bond. For a business valued at about $500,000, taxes would increase about $22 a year.

Corroon said he was "surprised" by the council's vote after he had received no commitments from Republican council members after lobbying them for two weeks.

While the projects would be initiated after Corroon leaves office (he's not seeking re-election), the mayor said there is considerable momentum to improve the county's recreational offerings.

Representatives of the Jordan River Commission urged the council to place the matter in voters' hands, noting the funds would be used to complete the 50-mile trail. "This is something that benefits the entire Wasatch Front," said Corey Ruston, commission chairman.

But Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, cautioned against creating more recreational facilities when the county has millions of dollars of deferred maintenance for existing facilities.

Low interest rates and low construction costs might make the proposal appear attractive. "We've seen time and time again that type of calculus has turned out to be a bad plan for taxpayers," Van Tassell said.

Corroon said issues of deferred maintenance would be addressed when his administration proposes a budget for the coming year. 

Corroon said the $47 million proposal for a general-obligation bond to fund the projects represented a good faith effort by his administration to address the council members' concerns yet address county residents' desire for more recreational opportunities.

"There's a lot of momentum for the Jordan River Trail. A lot of people want to see that finished," he said. "Hopefully this is the last piece of it."

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