Sandy and its mayor, Steve Newton, have filed a lawsuit in 3rd District Court seeking a legal way around the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District's refusal to let the city out of the district.
District officials say the suit is part of a malicious attempt to force the district to its knees financially because the action will delay a $23 million bond issue that would be used to buy 30,000 acre-feet of new water for the district and its customer agencies throughout Salt Lake County."We've tried to work things out professionally" with Sandy, said Robert B. Hilbert, the conservancy district's general manager. "Maybe we ought to join with others and start pushing people around. The district can sue, too."
Sandy City Attorney Wally Miller said: "The reason the lawsuit was filed stands independent of the bonds." He said the city did file within the 30-day statute of limitations for bond suits, however, not wanting its suit thrown out later on a timing technicality.
Miller said the suit asks that the bond issue be permitted to proceed, as long as Sandy is not obligated for the new debt.
He said Sandy filed the suit because it needs several legal questions clarified before a February city election on whether to join a new water district.
Sandy is interested in joining the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake City but faces the prospect of sticking its residents with property tax obligations to two districts at the same time, because the county district's board denied Sandy's petition for disconnection.
In the suit, Newton and the city ask the court for a declaratory judgment on several legal points.
Originally, the board had included in its bond package $4.7 million of the costs of a new $7.4 million headquarters complex. But it voted Dec. 15 to exclude the building from the bonding.
Sandy is also asking the court to provide a procedure by which construction of the building and sale of existing facilities can be effectively presented to the public for consideration - something the city maintains has not happened.
Newton said he'd like to gather petition signatures for a public vote, but there's no point in doing it until the court clarifies what legal weight such a vote would carry.
Newton - who serves on the district board and has objected to the new building in board meetings - considers the complex a wasteful luxury.
And the suit says that because the district board decided to fund the building without bonding, decisions relating to it will be left out of the public petition and election process provided in state law.
David Ovard, the district's administrative assistant, said the lawsuit presents an additional challenge because Newton and Sandy's chief administrative officer, Byron Jorgenson, both serve on the district board. The district can legally close meetings to the public under provisions of Utah's open meetings law to discuss pending litigation. The question is whether two board members - who are plaintiffs in the suit - could also be excluded or whether they would be able to hear the district's strategy for fighting the suit.
Newton said he and Jorgenson will fight any attempt to exclude them.
The lawsuit isn't the only trick Sandy has up its sleeve to combat the problems it sees with the conservancy district. Hilbert said Newton is trying to find a legislator to sponsor a bill that would affect the way conservancy districts and improvement districts are administered.
Newton said he would support a bill to restructure districts, but he declined to comment on whether such a bill is being written or who will sponsor it.
Representatives of the conservancy district are combating Sandy's offensive by holding meetings with customer agencies and their corresponding municipalities.
Hilbert addressed the City Council in West Valley City, which receives its water from the Granger Hunter Improvement District, a major customer of the conservancy district.
Newton also addressed the council, which eventually passed a resolution supporting the conservancy district's efforts to consummate the 30,000 acre-foot water rights purchase, acknowledging and protesting the lawsuit as an attempt to "block, obstruct and delay the district's proposed bond issue" and also acknowledging the proposed legislation.
Newton expressed dismay that the district hadn't told him of its planned West Valley visit. He said he learned of the meeting by chance that afternoon from a West Valley official and rushed over without time to prepare his presentation.
Ovard said the conservancy district plans to continue its meetings with customer cities and agencies to gain more support for the still-developing legal battle.