Grand County voters in a special election Tuesday narrowly defeated a bond issue of up to $4.5 million for proposed jail and courts expansion and renovation of county facilities.
"We lost by 52 votes. It was really close - 658 for, 710 against," said Judy Falke, deputy county clerk. The vote represented about 32 percent of the 4,270 registered voters in the county.The election defeat also means the loss of a $1.7 million no-interest loan that the Utah Community Impact Board had approved to offset costs of the project on condition the voters supported the bond issue, said County Commissioner David Knutson.
Knutson said he thinks the bond issue was defeated mainly because people react negatively to tax increase proposals. He said the local school board's opposition to the special election may also have played a role.
The Grand County School Board criticized the county for putting the issue to voters in advance of the general election. Board President Mike Arehart said the board suspected the county hoped to gain voter approval at the expense of the school district, which will ask voters Nov. 6 to support a two-mill levy increase for educational funding.
Knutson said he was disappointed at Tuesday's outcome but not at the voter turnout, which he said suggested that the public had gotten involved and informed about the issue over the past month.
"I'm disappointed, but we'll do what the voters have said," he said. "What we're going to do is try to protect the taxpayers at the least possible cost until something happens. We know the jail will be shut down or somebody will sue us in the future. Until that happens, we're going to try to carry on the best we can."
Knutson said the only other immediate option is to finance the project through the general fund, which he feels is cost-prohibitive.
"If we were to take care of it on our own, we'd be living with a 48 percent tax increase," he said. "In order for us to increase taxes through a building authority to take care of the situation would mean a tremendous increase in taxes. So until we're forced to do something, we're not going to do anything."
Officials say the 43-year-old Grand County Courthouse on East Center Street does not meet state fire, safety and health codes or federal handicapped access codes. The roof leaks and the electrical and ventilation systems are inadequate.
County Sheriff Jim Nyland said the jail does not meet state health standards, is overcrowded, inadequately lit and heated, and security is poor. In election advertising Nyland said he would rather see taxes go toward upgrading the jail than to an inmate in a civil rights lawsuit over jail conditions.
State court officials have said they need more room and handicapped access to court facilities. If the county does not proceed with courthouse expansion, the courts will have to be moved to a separate building, he said.
Tim Simmons of Price, 7th Judicial District court executive, said a new Moab court facility is third or fourth on the list with the Utah Judicial Council.