Sandy Mayor Steve Newton condemned the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District's new $7.6 million complex as "insane" and "irresponsible" in a Monday meeting with the Salt Lake County Commission.
He then dashed from that meeting to a conference with Gov. Norm Bangerter on the same issue.Newton met with the commission to outline his concerns about the partially constructed complex he has dubbed the "Temple to the Water Gods." The 38,000-square-foot complex includes a 20,000-square-foot administrative building, Newton told commissioners. "They will move 25 employees into that 20,000 square feet of office space," he said. "That's absolutely insane. They are approaching 1,000 square feet of space per employee."
District officials say Newton's figures also include space that is not finished as offices, adding that the building is designed to accommodate growth over the next 10 years.
Newton met with the commission because he said Robert Hilbert, general manager of the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District, wants the commission to pass a resolution condemning Newton and Sandy for attempting to pull out of the district and challenging the district's taxing authority.
"Our intent was to bring our elected County Commission up to speed on the water problems," Hilbert told the Deseret News. The commission was given a packet of information containing resolutions other municipalities in the county have passed, but no resolution was solicited from the commission, Hilbert said.
The commissioners said they wanted to hear Newton's side of the story before taking any action - and they got it.
Newton presented several figures to support his contention that the district flagrantly misspends taxpayer dollars. Architectural plans show a 500-square-foot "executive lounge," Newton said. But the lounge, as finished, has 2,000 square feet of space, he said.
The lounge includes a kitchenette, an executive bathroom and a mezzanine overlooking the atrium, Newton said.> "There's a fabulous atrium that runs the full length of the building. They authorized $120,000 for planting plants in the atrium," he said. "By the standards of any elected official, that building would be an irresponsible act." The general manger's office alone has 450 square feet of space.
He said the district's staff will be moving from a 20-year-old, 8,000-square-foot office at 3495 S. Third West to the 38,000-square-foot complex at 8200 S. 13th West. Newton believes the district could have expanded its present building for a fraction of the cost of the new complex.
The complex is being built on 14 acres. "It's a beautiful site. It's a beautiful complex."
Too beautiful. The building's size and elegance far outweigh the district's needs, illustrating the district's insensitivity to taxpayers, he said.
Newton said the district does not plan to move furniture from the old building into the new building. Instead, it has budgeted $300,000 for new furniture and $60,000 for window coverings.> "We will use as much of the existing furniture in the building as we can accommodate. Period," Hilbert said. Some of the furniture in question is 30 to 35 years old, said David Ovard, Hilbert's administrative assistant.
"If you start adding up the extras, with just the cost of the goodies they could have (expanded) the current site."
Newton began criticizing the district after Bangerter appointed him to its board in September. Earlier this month, Newton and Sandy City filed a suit against the water district seeking to remove Sandy from the district and asking the court to rule on the district's taxing authority. A hearing on a motion to dismiss the suit is scheduled for Friday.
Bangerter also got into the act. Newton asked to meet with him after learning that district officials met with Bangerter last week, asking him to remove Newton from its board.
At the meeting with district officials, Bangerter asked if there is room for compromise with Newton - a way Sandy could be let out of the district. "I've met with cooler heads than the mayor's in Sandy, and they want out of the district too," he said.
Board Chairman Gerald K. Maloney said letting Sandy out isn't an option because it would set a precedent that could threaten the solvency of the countywide district if other customer entities that are part of the district's tax base also decide to pull out.> Newton proposed a compromise to Bangerter: he would keep Sandy in the district and fight for the bond if the district dropped the amount of the bond from $27 million to $9 million and eliminated a clause calling for 20 years of maximum taxation. In addition, Newton wants the district to put the fate of the new building to the vote of the people. Newton believes it should be sold and the old one expanded.> Newton believes Bangerter was interested. "I think the governor is looking to broker a compromise between the district's position and our position," he said. "I think he is going to get us all in a room and try to bring us to some reasonable settlement."
If the governor is willing to play mediator, it is an offer that has yet to be extended to the conservancy district. "We hope to hear - I know something's in the wind," Hilbert said.
But Doug Bischoff, the governor's deputy chief of staff, said Bangerter would be foolish to get in the middle of the dispute, and his staff has recommended that he avoid a mediator role. He stressed that the meetings with both sides were initiated by the district and Sandy, not by the governor.
The governor's aide said he can't speak for his boss on his inclination to mediate but, "I doubt it, because Newton doesn't seem to be amenable to any kind of compromise. We don't feel that we are in the middle of this."
Bangerter is concerned that the Welby-Jacob water rights purchase not be jeopardized, and he has several legal questions he'd like answered, Bischoff said.