A proposed senior-citizen center in West Valley City and new libraries in Sandy and Taylorsville are just three of many Salt Lake County projects now on hold pending the outcome of a Nov. 8 vote on three tax-limiting initiatives.
Under normal circumstances the county would be routinely planning and developing those proj-ects and others but can't now because no one will know until after the election whether money to fund operations will be available next year.In some cases, otherwise routine projects have been delayed for the past six months because of uncertainty over next year's county budget due to the initiatives, said County Commissioner Mike Stewart.
For example, the county has the money available now to build the libraries and has received a donated building to house the senior-citizen center. But it can't proceed with those projects because if the initiatives pass, money to operate those new facilities would not be available.
The state Tax Commission has estimated passage of one of the initiatives, the one that would cap property taxes at 1 percent of fair market value, or 0.75 percent for residential property, would slash $39 million - or 40 percent of property tax revenue - from Salt Lake County's $231 million budget.
In projecting how that potential revenue cut would affect specific county operations, commissioners have said they may have to close seven senior-citizen centers and libraries in Alta and Draper.
The forced closure of existing facilities because of budget constraints would make it especially hard to build and develop new facilities, even though the construction money is readily available, Stewart said.
"We've always done libraries on a pay-as-you-go basis," the commissioner said. "The money to build the libraries is there, because we've been putting it aside. But the operations and maintenance funds won't be there if the initiatives pass. We may have to divert that escrowed money to maintenance rather than construction."
Other projects involving county operations that would not be directly affected by passage of the initiatives also are in limbo because their development could pose public-relations problems for the county. Golf course development is a prime example.
"We need more golf courses, and we could build them because golf courses pay for themselves through user fees," Stewart said. "But how can we build golf courses if we have to close parks for lack of maintenance funding?"
Still other county projects have been delayed while employees and resources were diverted from normal duties to determine the effect on county budgets should the initiatives pass, Stewart said. A study of Salt Palace expansion and planning for a proposed new minimum-security jail were put off as a result.
"To get information on the impact of the initiatives we had to draw budget, planning and auditing personnel off their normal assignments," he said. "We needed those people on things they otherwise would have been working on, but they were unavailable. The cost of that is having to push back some projects."