No vote on $123M Salt Lake County parks bond this year
Republicans on County Council say it's not time to vote on $123M plan.
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A proposed $123 million bond to upgrade Salt Lake County's park system will not be on November's ballot.

In a partisan 5-3 vote Tuesday, the Salt Lake County Council's Republican majority rejected Democratic Mayor Peter Corroon's plan to let voters decide whether to increase their taxes by an annual average of $14 per household to fix up existing parks and develop new ones in fast-growing areas of the valley.

While they generally saw merit in trying to improve parks, the GOP councilmen said a rebounding but still vulnerable economy made it imprudent to focus on one government function when the county faces so many pressing needs.

"If we keep looking at these issues by themselves, it's a recipe for disaster," said Councilman Michael Jensen, citing other requests for the county to make expensive investments in a convention-center hotel, performing-arts center, film center and new buildings for the district attorney and Salt Lake Valley Health Department.

"I'm a 'no' until we look at it holistically and determine priorities," he added, contending his first priority is to restore compensation cuts imposed on county employees when the bottom dropped out of the economy in the fall of 2008.

Council Chairman David Wilde likened the county to "a homeowner who needs a new roof, a sprinkling system that needs work and maybe electrical and plumbing problems in the house, and he says to his wife, 'Let's put a new RV or boat on the credit card.' That's not responsible."

Council Democrats supported Corroon's argument that putting the measure on the ballot simply allowed residents to decide whether to improve the system, pumping $26 million into deferred maintenance of existing parks, almost $12 million into the completion of the Jordan River Trail and $85 million into new park facilities.

"Now we have an opportunity to deal with the issue of deferred maintenance and the growing need for amenities. And the bond would have to be blessed by the people," said Councilman Jim Bradley, noting that the timing complied with GOP desires to put bonds on the ballot only during elections that attract high voter interest.

And this election year is projected to have perhaps the highest voter turnout ever in Utah, added his Democratic colleague, Arlyn Bradshaw, referencing the appeal of having former Salt Lake City Olympic leader Mitt Romney, a Mormon, atop the GOP ticket.

Corroon also said this was a good time to do the work, citing low interest rates and construction costs to provide recreation outlets that residents may use inexpensively.

But the Republicans prevailed, with Councilman Steve DeBry questioning whether voters would really comprehend how the park system's needs fit into the county's overall tax situation.

"I don't want us to cast our fate to the wind and take on more cargo and passengers," added Republican Councilman Max Burdick. "We have to be careful. … Now is not the time to let the voters think we're OK."

Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, applauded the council.

"To take on [almost] $100 million in new facilities is an affront to taxpayers," he said. "The County Council understood the wisdom of staying out of that and looking at the big picture."

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

How Corroon wanted the bond spent

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon recommended that the $123 million bond be used to pay for deferred maintenance at existing parks and to develop or expand new parks in the following locations:

Deferred maintenance — $26 million

Northern county — $8.85 million

Parleys Trail — $5.3 million

Emigration Canyon trails — $1.5 million

2500 North Dog Park — $1.3 million

Jordan River Par-3 Park — $440,000

Sorenson West BMX Park — $300,000

West-central county — $17.3 million

Develop Lodestone Park — $8.4 million

Buy ATK Hercules property — $5.4 million

Oquirrh Park — $1.5 million

Valley Regional Park — $1.44 million

Improve Decker Lake, Magna Copper and Redwood Regional parks —

$440,000

East-central county — $12.5 million

Parleys Trail — $4.5 million

Big Cottonwood Regional Park — $4 million

Wheeler Park (South Cottonwood Regional) — $2.35 million

Little Cottonwood Park — $1.65 million

Southwest county — $32.2 million

Southwest Regional Park — $15 million

West Jordan Park — $5 million

Welby Regional Park — $5 million

Equestrian Park — $2.7 million

Rose/Yellow Fork Canyons — $2.5 million

Western Springs Park in Riverton — $2 million

Southeast county — $14.4 million

Wheadon Park — $8 million

Dimple Dell Regional Park — $3 million

Midvale City Park — $3 million

Improve Big Bear, Copperview and Dimple Dell Rec Center parks — $422,000

Jordan River Trail — $11.8 million

Source: Salt Lake County mayor's office