If the federal government won't do anything about payday lenders, Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch will.

Today the Salt Lake County Council will consider a ban on all new check-cashing businesses in the unincorporated county area. A short-term ban has been in place since October, while some members of the council have been reluctant to pass an all-out ban.

Hatch said something needs to be done to curb the "predatory industry."

"I want the federal government to come in and say, 'We're going to regulate this industry in an appropriate manner,"' Hatch said. "Absent that, it's the wild, wild West. This is reining in the wild West, and the only way we can do that is through zoning."

Hatch's ordinance would limit check-cashing businesses to one per 15,000 county residents. It also scatters the lenders across the county by spacing payday loan shops at least 600 feet apart in unincorporated areas.

The county put a six-month moratorium in place last fall to "wait and see" if the Legislature would put any regulations in place for the check-cashing industry on a statewide level. Then the county extended the ban for another two months, and still no real meaningful regulation has been passed at either the state or federal level.

However, some Republicans on the council are hesitant to pass Hatch's ordinance, saying they don't want to interfere with the free market.

Republican Councilman Jeff Allen believes some restrictions should be in place but said Hatch's ordinance goes too far.

Allen will instead propose an ordinance that would keep payday lenders out of county redevelopment areas and a minimum 600 to 1,000 feet from senior centers and possibly schools. In addition, Allen wants to raise fees on the lenders to pay for an education program.

"We need to have education an options for these individuals to cover short-term cash problems," Allen said. "I would much rather do that."

Ten cities in Salt Lake County have density or zoning restrictions on payday lenders.

Salt Lake City leaders are considering a similar ordinance but are reluctant to impose a moratorium because a recent audit of the city's troubled planning division strongly recommended against using them. Planners often are forced to produce ordinances that have not been fully vetted to meet the six-month moratorium deadline, city officials said.

Plus, a moratorium isn't enough to stop the problem, Councilman JT Martin said recently.

"I think (a moratorium) would be putting a Band-Aid on the situation," said Martin, the council's strongest voice of opposition to payday lenders.

If Salt Lake City passes a ban and Salt Lake County doesn't, Hatch said the Millcreek area could be in inundated with new check-cashing businesses.


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