Both Ralph Becker and Dave Buhler admitted to experiencing some sticker shock over the $192 million public safety bond proposed for Salt Lake City, but Becker took it a step further Monday night when he expressed doubts that it will pass.
"While I support it, I'm fearful that our citizens won't support it in the election," Becker said during a debate hosted by the Junior League of Salt Lake City and the Utah League of Women Voters at the state Capitol.
On Nov. 1, Salt Lake City voters will decide whether to accept a property tax increase to pay for new public safety facilities. The bond, which will appear on the ballot as Proposition 1, would cover the cost of five public safety structures at three locations. Plans call for a new public safety building, parking structure/evidence storage center and an emergency operations center to be grouped as a downtown public safety complex.
The other two structures that would be funded by the bond are a combined fire station/firefighter training center in Glendale and a police/fire public safety facility in Sugar House.
"While I support this bond, I'm very concerned about it," Becker said. "It's $192 million. The restoration of (the state Capitol) costs less than this bond. The shock factor to taxpayers, I'm concerned, may be too great."
Becker, who has spent the past 11 years in the state House of Representatives, criticized capital facilities planning by the city for not moving the projects forward one by one over time instead of hitting taxpayers all at once.
"I hope, if I'm elected mayor and this bond passes, to go back and take a good look at the timing and phasing for these projects and to make sense of how we proceed forward," he said.
Buhler, a Salt Lake City councilman for the past eight years, reiterated his wholehearted support for the bond.
"I, too, am concerned about the price tag," he said, "but I'm even more concerned about doing nothing."
Buhler pointed out some of the pressing needs for the bond, such as the 911 dispatchers and the city's emergency operations center being housed in a public safety building that is not seismically safe.
"Nothing is more important to our community than public safety," he said. "I believe it is the No. 1 priority of any city government and should be of any mayor."
Last week, Buhler held a press conference outside the Pioneer police precinct on the city's west side, where he was endorsed by former Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse and the Salt Lake Police Association.
Buhler said the $192 million bond would be a ceiling for the needed improvements.
"If I'm elected mayor, I will work very hard to move that number down as much as I can responsibly," he said. "We need to build all of these facilities. I don't think it would be responsible to cut any of them out."
A poll conducted for the Deseret Morning News last month indicated that 52 percent of voters would cast their ballot in favor of the proposed bond, despite an expected property tax increase of about $114 per year on a $200,000 home. Another 39 percent said they would vote against the bond and 10 percent said they didn't know, according to the Dan Jones & Associates poll.
The Junior League of Salt Lake City is an organization of more than 600 women committed to promoting volunteer work and improving communities through effective action, education and leadership of trained volunteers.
The Utah League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages the informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy.League representative Sharon Walkington moderated the debate.