A new bill could give Sandy leaders just what they need to build a Broadway-style theater in the suburbs.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, is crafting a bill that would give Salt Lake County cities millions of dollars in Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention tax (TRCC) fund revenues — money county leaders refuse to lose.

County leaders estimate a $200 million hit over the next 30 years, a figure Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said will force him to make major cutbacks.

"We will have to close facilities like the equestrian park, some of our recreation centers, and it would cause a big hit to our tourism and convention industry," Corroon said.

And without all that money, the county likely won't be able to build a Broadway-style theater of its own.

SB218 would remove the 1 percent restaurant tax that feeds into county TRCC funds across the state, and instead replace it with a .07 local option sales tax. That money would then be pooled and divvied up to the counties — that is, everywhere but Salt Lake County.

Cities in Salt Lake County would then take half of the county's estimated $16 million cut of the new sales tax revenue.

Other counties won't have to share half of the funds to their cities, but that doesn't mean they don't have reason to worry, said Brent Gardner, executive director of the Utah Association of Counties.

"Other counties are certain that all the other cities are eventually going to want the same benefit that Salt Lake County cities have," Gardner said.

Niederhauser said he isn't running SB218 so Sandy can build its theater. He just wants to take the politics out of distributing TRCC funds.

"There is this preconceived notion where things should go," Niederhauser said. Local mayors have been complaining for years that Salt Lake City is receiving an undeserved share of the TRCC funds.

"Over the years there's been, from Republican to Democratic, political politics played in where those funds go," Niederhauser said. "I just feel like it would take a lot of the politics out of the distribution."

County leaders thought they fixed the perceived problem just last year.

The Legislature in 2007 passed a bill that forced the county to create an advisory panel in charge of distributing restaurant tax revenue. The nine-member board includes five mayors, including chairman Kelvyn Cullimore, Cottonwood Heights mayor.

The board has barely had time to make any decisions, let alone play politics, Salt Lake County Councilman Michael Jensen said. He said Niederhauser should wait and see how things play out before making any major changes again.

"I would want to give the TRCC advisory board some time to get their legs underneath them and actually make some decisions, and really get involved," Jensen said.

Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch said the bill is just another move by Sandy leaders who want more county dollars for amenities in their city.

"This is a city that got an amphitheater, South Towne (Exposition Center) and a soccer stadium, and they are saying we're not doing enough for them?" Hatch said. "They are not satisfied. It's like a hungry monster that is just constantly being fed."

Sandy leaders insist they only started considering building a theater after they were approached by a developer, said Scott Bond, the assistant city manager.

In fact, Bond insists the city has not considered using TRCC funding to build the theater, but it hasn't ruled out that possibility. He said he hopes the theater will be a for-profit enterprise not subsidized heavily by taxpayer dollars.

Gardner said counties should be in charge of tourism and recreation dollars.

He said the Salt Palace and South Towne Exposition Center would never have been built if the cities always received half of the county's restaurant tax revenue.

"This needs to be performed on a larger scale than a municipality, because if you split up the money into 15 or 20 little pots, then you can't be as effective in promoting outside tourism as you can on a county level."

Niederhauser said he believes regional tourism and recreational facilities can still be built if the cities will just work together with the county and share.


Contributing: Rebecca Palmer


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