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Six Utah cities plan to put UTOPIA question to voters

Published August 7, 2014 7:41 am

Mayors for West Valley City, Layton, Midvale, Tremonton, Brigham City and Perry say they want residents to decide.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Valley City • Voters in six Wasatch Front cities may get their say this fall on whether UTOPIA's high-speed municipal network should be run by a private company in exchange for a monthly utility fee.

In a joint appearance Wednesday, mayors for West Valley City, Layton, Midvale, Tremonton, Brigham City and Perry announced plans to put some version of that question on November's ballot, pending the go-ahead from their respective city councils.

"This will give our residents a chance for their voices to be heard," Layton Mayor Bob Stevenson said at a hastily scheduled presentation at West Valley City Hall.

"Looking at a public-private partnership ... is about the only way we can get out of the weeds and start providing appropriate service to everyone who wants it," Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini said. "But if it's something our residents want, they're going to have to vote for it."

Exact wording of the referendum, Stevenson said, will be worked out in the coming days. Deadlines for getting any measure on this fall's ballots, meanwhile, are only a few weeks away, said a spokeswoman at the Salt Lake County clerk's office.

The six cities all have agreed to let an Australian investment company, Macquarie Capital, continue to develop its proposal for taking over completion, operation and upgrading of UTOPIA's fiber-optic network under a 30-year contract.

The Macquarie plan also calls for charging all households within participating cities a monthly utility fee of up to $20.

The global company's next report to the Utah cities on various financial, technical and legal aspects of the deal is expected by year's end.

A top Macquarie official said Wednesday the company "fully supports informing the residents of each partner city and seeking consensus agreement on the best path forward."

Nick Hahn, senior managing director for Macquarie Capital, said the Sydney-based company's own research shows "city residents overwhelmingly favor this proposed project and understand why the fee is justified. They also believe strongly in a private-sector solution for construction and operations."

Five other UTOPIA cities — Murray, Centerville, Orem, Lindon and Payson — have rejected Macquarie's proposal. Leaders in those cities are debating their next moves, while UTOPIA struggles to turn a profit and start relieving member cities of their obligation to pay off nearly $500 million in bond debt.

The business-backed Utah Taxpayers Association, which opposes UTOPIA, has pressed for giving taxpayers a chance to weigh in.

"It's thrilling to hear that these cities are now looking for that opportunity," association Vice President Royce Van Tassell said Wednesday.

tsemerad@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Tony_Semerad