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Salt Lake County mayor calls lawsuit over parks bond 'premature'

Mayors rally support for $47M proposition to build parks, trails

Published: Thursday, Nov. 1 2012 7:16 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon affirmed the county's intentions to use proceeds of a proposed $47 million parks and trails bond "on projects listed in this pamphlet in front of me."

Corroon made the statement Thursday in response to a complaint filed in 3rd District Court earlier this week by three Salt Lake men who seek to invalidate results of the ballot question, in part over concerns over the language of Proposition 1. The question appears on the general election ballot.

Salt Lake County voters are being asked whether to raise their property taxes — $5.73 per year on a residence valued at $238,000 for the 20-year life of the bond — to develop three parks, purchase land for another and substantially complete two major trails.

Community activist Jeff Salt, one of three pro se petitioners in a lawsuit against Corroon, the Salt Lake County Council and County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, says the ballot language does not specify how bond money will be used if the question is approved by the voters.

Corroon and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker conducted a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Northwest Recreation Center to encourage support for the bond, which would be used for substantial completion of the Jordan River and Parleys trails, development regional parks and purchase of land for a future park in Magna.

Both mayors said the improvements would complement the existing inventory of parks and trails in the county. Corroon, who lives in Salt Lake City, said he frequently travels to regional parks elsewhere in the county for his children's soccer games.

"We want to build them where the population currently is and where people will be in the future," he said. 

Corroon said the complaint filed by Salt, Danny Potts and Eric G. Harvey is "premature" because the vote has not been conducted and bond proceeds have not been appropriated for projects.

"We don't see any reason it can't be spent there or won't be spent there," he said of the planned projects.

Salt said although the complaint had been filed, it had not been served to county officials.

"We have 120 days by law (to serve it)," he said. "We have it in there, and we could serve the county at any time. We want to take a look at the election results."

The group does not oppose using public money for parks and trails.

"We just want to make sure the public gets what was promised, and to prevent a $47 million bait-and-switch from happening," Potts said in a statement.

In late September, Salt and two other community activists argued unsuccessfully before the Salt Lake County Council to remove the bond issue from the Nov. 6 ballot because of procedural flaws. Attorneys representing the county on the bond said critics of the bond cited the wrong points of law in their arguments. 

In its 162-page complaint, the petitioners allege that Salt Lake County has violated several laws regarding elections and issuing government bonds, and has engaged in deceptive advertising practices by not distributing a voter information pamphlet to inform voters about the bond and promising to create "natural habitat" when it has no intention of doing so.

The county has conducted a series of community meetings to explain the projects that would be covered by the bond and the costs to property owners. It also developed a website to provide information about Proposition 1. 

Becker said the bond issue was "a really exciting opportunity for all of us in Salt Lake County." Residents of the valley — and future residents — prize the existing outdoor recreational venues in the county and want more, he said.

The cost, Corroon said, is "less than a price of a movie. It's less than the price of a bucket of popcorn you can buy at the movie."

The Utah Taxpayers Association has opposed the bond, partly because the county has million of dollars in deferred maintenance costs for existing recreational facilities. 

Corroon said there is $6 million for deferred maintenance in his proposed budget, his last as the outgoing county mayor.

"We're taking care of it over time. We'll continue to do that,"  he said.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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