Utah County property owners might not have to foot the bill for construction of a special events center at Utah Valley Community College because of a new tax being considered by the Utah Legislature.

HB438 proposes to allow counties to impose a 1 percent tax on food sold at places such as restaurants, fast-food outlets and convenience stores earmarked for tourism, recreation and convention facilities. The bill passed the House Tuesday and goes to the Senate for consideration.The bill's sponsor, Rob W. Bishop, R-Brigham City, said the tax could be used for the UVCC project should local officials desire. "It's a county option tax," he said.

The Utah County Commission is expected to receive petitions Monday from a citizens' group asking the county to hold a general obligation bond election to fund the $7.7 million events center. The debt would be paid off over a 15-year period by an increase in property taxes. The owner of a $70,000 home, for instance, would pay an additional 69 cents a month.

But Commission Chairman Malcolm H. Beck said the meals tax could be used to retire the debt rather than money generated by raising property taxes should voters approve a bond. The commission will decide next Wednesday whether to hold the election, he said.

Beck said the commission supports the legislative bill. The Utah Restaurant Association opposes it.

College officials see it as a potential funding source for the arena they want to build along with a $10 million physical education complex. UVCC is in line to receive $170,000 in planning money for the complex during this legislative session. The construction money will likely not come until next year's session.

"I happen to think it's a golden opportunity for us," said UVCC President Kerry Romesburg.

Utah County stands to collect about $800,000 a year from the tax, he said. Bishop said the County Commission would decide how to use the money.

"I think we could use it for that type of thing rather than a lot of other things," Beck said of the college project.

Romesburg said he is optimistic that legislators will approve the tax proposal because it is tied to Salt Palace renovation.

"Since they want it for the Salt Palace, I think it has a good chance of passing," he said. Salt Lake County could use the money for operation and maintenance of the Salt Palace.

The UVCC center is to contain a 6,500- to 8,500-seat arena, exhibit hall, gymnasiums, racquetball courts, locker rooms, classrooms, offices and dance and aerobic studios. The college would operate and maintain the center, which would be built just north of the Activity Center on campus.

The physical education building is to be built regardless of whether the college gets the money to construct the arena.

Last June, college officials proposed that the Utah Sports Authority fund the construction of the events center as one of three ice rinks needed for Utah's bid to host the 1998 Winter Games.

That plan didn't work out because the college wanted to use the facility for a variety of cultural events, while the Sports Authority wanted it used as more of a training center for athletes in ice sports.

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(Additional information)

Possible financing for a $7.7 million special

Money for arena

Possible financing for a $7.7 million special events center at Utah Valley Community College:

- Fifteen-year bond paid off through property taxes - about $8 a year on a $70,000 home. Voters would have to approve the issue in a special election.

- One percent tax on food sold at restaurants, fast-food outlets and convenience stores. Utah County could collect about $800,000 a year. A bill to allow the meal tax is before the Legislature.