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."
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
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