Salt Lake County Republicans didn't pay their "fair share" of Salt Palace rental last weekend, and county Democrats are crying foul.

Joe Hatch, Salt Lake County Democratic chairman, said Tuesday that county Republicans were "waived" a basic $2,600 rental fee for their Saturday convention. "Taxpayers shouldn't be paying for political conventions" through the subsidy, said Hatch.Hatch said Salt Palace officials offered Democrats the same deal - for Democrats to hold their convention this coming Saturday in the Salt Palace.

"But we declined. We're paying our full freight," said Hatch, a local attorney.

Hatch said Salt Palace rules do allow for fee waivers in two cases: If the party seeking rental is a 501C3 charity or if the party is a government agency.

"By definition, by law, no political party is a charity. And they ain't no government agency, either," said Hatch.

Hatch showed the media a request from the county GOP for the waiver in 1997. He said he's been told that county Republicans applied, and got, the $2,600 waiver this year as well.

On the 1997 waiver request sheet, county party officials wrote they were a political party, "grandfathered in by the state Constitution - requested by (Salt Lake County GOP Commissioner) Brent Overson."

"I can only assume that the commissioner made the request" for the fee waiver, said Hatch.

But Overson denies having anything to do with the matter.

Overson said the Salt Palace Management Co. decides which groups can use the Salt Palace on a fee-waiver basis, using policy criteria set by the Salt Palace Advisory Board. "The County Commission, and the county, don't get involved in it," said Overson.

Regarding whether he was involved to any degree in the decision, "I flatly deny that."

Nevertheless, Overson offered as his personal opinion that all political parties - Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, whatever - ought to be able to use public facilities on a reduced-fee basis as contributing to the public good.

Hatch said Salt Palace officials "have been wonderful to work with" in arranging this year's Democratic convention. However, they refused to give Hatch a copy of the 1998 county GOP convention contract.

"They told me that all contracts are private. But they also said the county (Republicans) got the waiver this year. And they offered us the same waiver, saying we qualified as a `government agency,' " said Hatch. "But we aren't, and county taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing county political convention" to the tune of $2,600, he added.

Salt Palace executive director Cliff Rippetoe was in a Salt Palace Advisory Board meeting Tuesday morning and didn't return Deseret News telephone calls.

Hatch said he thought taxpayers stopped picking up any cost of political conventions after 1994.

Until then, the Legislature each year would appropriate a specific amount of state funds to be given to qualifying political party conventions. The allocation was based on how many votes a political party got in elections, and minority parties complained for years about the deal.

Lawmakers, with Republican and Democratic party approval, stopped the practice, saying political parties should fund their conventions themselves.

Ironically, Salt Lake County Republicans were criticized on several fronts Saturday for the fees they were charging convention participants.

County GOP chairman Bill Quist, who could not be reached on deadline Tuesday for comments on Hatch's accusations, told the Deseret News last week that he was sticking by the county party's policy of charging candidates $50 to speak in the convention and $300 for a booth in the convention hall.

Republican Assembly members Tom Draschil and Ruth Robinson were arrested by Salt Lake police Saturday morning for passing out conservative GOP literature at the convention. Quist said he ordered them not to pass out the material because the Assembly - a conservative GOP group - didn't pay $300 for a booth. The pair cited First Amendment free speech rights and, after disobeying a police order to stop, were arrested for trespassing.

And House District 22 candidate Michael Jensen refused to pay the $50 candidate fee and so couldn't speak in his caucus. He stood outside the room's door and talked to delegates. He didn't get enough votes and was eliminated.

Quist said last week that both the booth fee and candidate fee were needed to pay for the convention, estimated to have cost $15,000. "We don't have enough money" to pay for the convention without the fees, Quist said then. Getting a break on the $2,600 rental fee no doubt helped.

Hatch took another shot at county Republicans, saying anyone - "Even the Eagle Forum" - can pass out literature at his convention; that he isn't charging $300 a booth - "just the $25 a table that the Salt Palace charges us" - and that no one will be arrested for using their free speech rights when Democrats gather this Saturday in the Salt Palace.