Salt Lake County's parks and recreation division has come up with a plan to fix problems at dozens of existing facilities and to develop new sites to meet the recreational needs of a growing population.
While County Council members agreed the proposal has merits, they aren't certain a bond issuance of perhaps $110 million for parks projects is the best solution to a larger problem of deferred maintenance throughout county operations.
Council members will have until mid-May to decide whether to put the division's bond proposal on the general election ballot this November, asking voters if they're willing to raise taxes about $14 a year for owners of an "average" $238,000 home, $53 annually for the owner of a $500,000 business to upgrade the county's parks and recreation infrastructure.
"We want to ask taxpayers if they're willing to support that," said Erin Litvack, who oversees parks and recreation as the county's community services director. "This is an opportunity to get caught up on deferred maintenance."
Deferred maintenance is a sore spot for the County Council, which last fall received a report showing that, overall, the county had $216 million worth of overdue projects, ranging from building fixes to computer upgrades.
About $25 million involves parks and recreation facilities, Litvack said, citing a number of examples: an inadequate storm drain system at the equestrian park in South Jordan, dilapidated tennis courts at Tanner Park in Millcreek and beat-up playground structures at parks far and wide.
"We have some very well-loved pieces of equipment," she said, "and with that love comes damage over time."
In addition, Litvack said, parks and recreation officials have identified $258 million worth of opportunities for parks-related development in the valley. In some cases, the county has chances to buy lands, in others to proceed with plans for parcels bought previously, and in still others to develop parks on land reserved for that purpose by valley cities.
These amenities, Litvack said, are acutely needed in southwestern Salt Lake County, where few facilities are available for a growing population.
She suggested a parks bond should be large enough to cover all of the deferred-maintenance projects plus a number of new development efforts, in the interest of fairness to people across the county. If all areas of the county are required to repay the bonds, she said, all areas should have benefits as well.
"You've said we need to get a handle on deferred maintenance," Deputy Mayor Nichole Dunn told the council. "This is one way to do it."
But is it the right way?
Council Chairman David Wilde isn't certain.
"When we have huge maintenance needs for all departments, is it time to go out and build new facilities that need maintenance?" he questioned, also wondering if it is wise to address parks and recreation needs before seeing where they fit into the county's overall picture.
"There are things there I'd love to see for my community, but I don't know if it's responsible," Wilde said.
Councilman Max Burdick had similar concerns about where parks fit into a prioritized list of deferred-maintenance projects, but acknowledged that a bond has a better chance of passing if it is tailored to address a specific need, such as parks, rather than being too broad.
To help the council figure out what to do, Litvack is organizing a field trip or two this spring to pertinent parks. After that, Wilde said, the council can decide if a bond proposal should be put on the ballot, how much it should be for and, if approved, where the money should be spent.