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Deep divisions delay decision on DA building

Published March 26, 2013 8:22 pm

Salt Lake County • GOP councilman Burdick asks for more time in partisan struggle
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Salt Lake County Council still hasn't cut a check yet to kick start the stalled development of new offices for the district attorney.

But it did approve the expenditure Tuesday of $2.3 million to advance another long-running project — putting almost every county agency on a new purchasing, payroll and finance system. The council previously set aside $5.4 million for Oracle's PeopleSoft system.

Its $8 million bottom line is a fraction of the projected cost of the DA's offices (which now range from $45 million to $51 million), a source of heartburn for some council members since the original estimate was $31 million.

After two years of discussion, a divided council seemed poised to vote in favor of the expanded outlay, which would pay for a 5½-story structure at 600 S. State in Salt Lake City, two blocks from the Matheson Courthouse.

Four Republicans were against it. Four Democrats were for it. GOP Councilman Max Burdick looked to be swinging the vote the Democrats' way, apparently convinced that building at 600 South was the way to go at this juncture, considering the county already had invested $2 million into that site.

But then Council Chairman Steve DeBry, a Republican, abruptly adjourned the meeting. When it resumed 19 minutes later, Burdick declined to vote to break a 4-4 tie, asking for a continuance until next Tuesday.

Burdick said he was not strong-armed by his GOP colleagues during the break, but needed more time to decide because he had heard so many different figures for how much the 600 South building would cost per square foot.

"I wanted to make sure I was good on all the numbers," he said later. "I still think it's a good way to go. It makes sense to go the direction we are. … But I think if you're not feeling right [about something] at the moment, don't do it."

Republican councilmen object to construction costs they feel are too high because of plans for the DA's office to be a "net zero" building, producing as much energy as it consumes. They think substantial savings could be realized by building to the less extreme but still desirable LEED gold standard, citing a cost of $217 per square foot for the LEED-certified Millcreek Recreation Center compared to the $346 per square foot forecast for the 600 South building. That difference could leave money to develop additional offices for the district attorney near the West Jordan court, DeBry said.

For the downtown site, the Democrats contend the cost of a "net zero" building is not appreciably more than that for a LEED gold building. Deputy Mayor Nichole Dunn said $217-per-square-foot charge is for outlying areas, not the southwest corner of 600 S. State, where the cost to get LEED gold status would rise to $336 per square foot. Long-term energy savings would make up the difference after only a few years, she added.

The council's vote on the information technology system means County Administrative Services Director Jill Carter can begin work immediately on a project she said will benefit county employees and the public alike.

Her goal is to have financial, payroll and basic human resources programs operational next January. A June 2014 start-up date is targeted for the budget system and enhanced human resources.

mikeg@sltrib.com

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