A "yes" vote will endorse the preservation of two of the Salt Lake Valley's best-known landmarks but also portends an increase in property taxes.

A "no" vote will hold the line on taxes but also ensures those historic structures will soon wind up in a pile of bricks and rubble.

Those are the choices Murray voters must weigh Tuesday in a special election that will decide the fate of the old American Smelter and Refining Co. smokestacks.

In voting in the primary elections, Murray residents will decide whether to authorize up to $3.4 million in general obligation bonds to seismically stabilize and preserve the giant smelter chimneys.

The fate of the smokestacks, 450 and 300 feet high respectively, is an issue that has divided the community in recent weeks.

Debate has intensified the past week as pro-preservation factions have taken their message to residents with a meeting in the Murray City Library and continued a vigorous telephone campaign.

Opponents have been equally active with an "Ax The Stacks" campaign, and they picked up their efforts over the weekend by distributing "door-knockers" (small placards that hang on door-knobs) outlining reasons to oppose the bond issue.

If approved, the bond issue would mean a $17 per year property tax levy for every $100,000 of assessed taxable value on Murray homes for the next 20 years.

The city would acquire the property from the present owners and assume the liability for the chimneys, making various structural improvements to ensure their long-term stability.

If rejected, private companies still responsible for the smokestacks and the clean-up of residual arsenic and lead contamination are certain to demolish the chimneys.

Much of the debate has centered around the cost of stabilizing the stacks and the level of contamination to be cleaned up.

Of the $3.4 million in costs identified by city staff, about $2.9 million would be earmarked for stabilization and preservation while $500,000 would be set aside to clean up contamination.

City Councilman John Ward, a strong advocate of preserving the chimneys, maintains the cleanup costs will be borne by the parties now responsible for the chimneys and will reduce the bond issue.

Ward also wants the city to collect what previous owners would pay for demolition costs if the stack were toppled, and notes there would be other offsets such as telecommunication revenue to reduce preservation costs.

"In my mind, the final cost will be less than $1 million," he said.

But opponents of the smokestack preservation plan are skeptical, contending that no one can really foresee the costs until the project is bid out.

"It's like buying a pig in a poke," said Don Patton, a former Murray mayoral candidate who has been assisting with the "Ax The Stacks" campaign. "It will mean at least a 14.4 percent property tax increase. . . . Who wants a new tax?"

Patton, who indicated the tax increase would unfairly burden senior citizens and other Murray residents with fixed incomes, said it makes more sense to remove the chimneys and clear the way for a billion dollar-plus downtown redevelopment project.

Bruce Smith, who also supports demolishing the chimneys, noted Murray residents currently have no responsibility for the smokestacks but will become legally liable for them if bond passes.

"Preservation or demolition of the smokestacks should remain in the private (sector) domain," Patton added.

But Adele Weiler, who chairs the Murray Historic Preservation Board, said voters should envision a future where the refurbished chimneys could become a unique center that would cater to residents as well as tourists.

The board advocates converting the stacks into a museum, tourism office and educational center.

"A physical landmark can never be replaced," says a board press release, and demolition of the chimneys "erodes the connection for future generations to the history of their own community."


Additional Information

Reasons to keep, demolish smokestacks

Why they should stay

- The smokestacks are a vital part of the city's history and are among the Salt Lake Valley's most prominent land-marks.

- Once demolished, they can never be replaced - and their destruction would erode Murray residents' connection with their economic and cultural history.

- They can be developed into a unique museum, tourism and educational center that would be an added attraction to the billion-dollar-plus redevelopment project planned for the area.

- Preservation costs can be offset by revenues from telecommunication rentals, grants, donations and leasing of space inside the stacks.

Why they should go

- Property taxes would be increased by as much as $17 per year for each $100,000 of assessed value on a home.

- That tax increase, which amounts to about 14.4 percent, would be a burden for senior citizens and other Murray residents on fixed incomes.

- The city, which now has no responsibility for the chimneys, would have to assume long-term liability for the smokestacks.

- Demolition of the stacks would remove an obstacle for Intermountain Health Care and commercial developers who plan to construct a major medical complex and retail center on the 141-acre smelter site.