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Salt Lake County parks bond headed to November ballot

Reservations » Council, activists want money used only for identified projects.

First Published Aug 21 2012 06:56 pm • Last Updated Nov 30 2012 11:33 pm

The language on the November ballot will be simple: Do voters authorize Salt Lake County to issue $47 million in bonds for parks and trails?

But in formally agreeing Tuesday to put Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon’s trimmed-down bond proposal before voters (it was originally $123 million), the County Council made it clear that, if approved, bond money will be used for already-identified projects — and that council approval of all expenditures will be required to ensure the next county mayor does not divert funds to pet projects of his own.

At a glance

Hotel funding and smoke shops

The Salt Lake County Council agreed Tuesday to provide $25,000 to fund a study of financial models that a public/private partnership could use to build a large downtown hotel near the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center. The funding will be released as part of an interlocal agreement with Salt Lake City’s Redevelopment Agency, which last week authorized a similar expenditure to do the study.

Earlier this summer, the County Council voted against the convention center hotel project. But a divided council later decided to at least look at the financing models, without making a commitment to the overall concept. Councilmen David Wilde, Steve DeBry and Richard Snelgrove, who oppose public financing of a hotel that competes with private sector hotels, maintained those positions Tuesday in voting against funding the financial-study model. They lost 6-3, outvoted by Jani Iwamoto, Max Burdick, Jim Bradley, Michael Jenson, Randy Horiuchi and Arlyn Bradshaw.

The council also voted unanimously to create a specialty business license for tobacco shops, specifying that they could lose those licenses if caught selling products to minors or offering illegal items, such as spice or other forms of synthetic marijuana.

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The council’s stance provided some consolation to two activist residents, former Salt Lake City Councilwoman Nancy Saxton and Jeff Salt of the nonprofit group Great Salt Lakekeeper, who fear money from a vaguely worded bond proposal could be shifted too easily to a lawsuit-stalled soccer complex along the Jordan River near Rose Park.

But it was not completely reassuring, said Salt, noting he is concerned that "verbal agreements, voter education guides and newspaper stories" about proposed bond uses are not binding on government officials, who could use a loosely worded proposal to spend bond money as they please.

"It’s important to be specific," Saxton added, "so it does not necessitate the public going to court to make things happen or not happen. … This may be a time to make a statement to the public so they know what this is, what they are voting for."

Salt is coordinator for the Jordan River Restoration network, whose 3rd District Court lawsuit challenging the language of a $15.3 million Salt Lake City bond issuance has stopped work from beginning on a 142-acre soccer complex near 1900 W. 2200 North.

Even before they spoke up, Councilman Steve DeBry had insisted that the council go on record saying that if voters approved the bond, the $47 million would go toward projects identified in July by Corroon.

Those include $11.5 million for the Jordan River Trail, $10 million for a regional park in the southwest valley, $9.5 million for Parleys Trail, $6 million for Wheadon Park in the southeast valley, $5.5 million to buy park property in Magna and $5 million for Lodestone Park in Kearns.

Deputy District Attorney Ralph Chamness cautioned against being too specific in the bond language, noting it could hurt the county’s negotiating position in land purchases and bind the county too much if a project doesn’t work out, for whatever reason.

Council members unanimously felt their references to Corroon’s proposed projects prevented the kind of behind-the-scene changes that worried Saxton and Salt, particularly since the council previously expressed its opposition to county funding for the soccer complex.

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