Why is Utah spending hundreds of thousands for a building and a fence at Gov. Cox’s home in Fairview?

The money was included in a bill from 2021 to increase security for state executives, but made no mention of construction at Cox’s property.

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There is a project up for bid on the state’s public procurement website labeled “DPS Fairview Security Project.”

The description reads, “The Department of Public Safety is requesting help in building a security house with monitoring space in Fairview. The house will have office/workspace, living areas, and an attached carport.” It has an estimated price tag of $260,000. It seems like any other run-of-the-mill state construction project.

It’s not.

The 320 square foot construction will be a permanent office for Gov. Spencer Cox’s security detail on his farm in Fairview. The publicly available floorplan shows office space, a kitchenette, washroom with shower and a loft area. There is also a planned carport. The construction documents also reference future projects to build a 6 foot wrought iron security fence plus a wrought iron liftgate at the entrance to the property. A 6-foot tall black chainlink fence will surround the rest of the property and a future guard building at the front of the property. A security monitoring system is also on the future to-do list. All of those improvements will come at the expense of Utah taxpayers.

Where did the money for these construction projects come from?

Since taxpayers are footing the bill, you would expect the project to be detailed somewhere in the annual budget approved by lawmakers.

Except it’s not.

There is no reference to the construction of the security building on Cox’s property anywhere in the FY 2021-22 budget approved by lawmakers.

The funding results from a little budgetary sleight of hand that came through a bill passed late in the 2021 Utah Legislature.

Protection for the governor, the Legislature and the Capitol Hill complex falls under the Highway Patrol’s Office of Executive Protection umbrella. In FY 2020-21, lawmakers appropriated just over $4 million for those purposes. That’s up from about $3.8 million in 2018.

The 2021-22 appropriation jumped considerably to more than $4.8 million in ongoing funds. That increase resulted from Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson being assigned a full-time security detail shortly after she and Cox won the 2020 election. The move was prompted after a “legitimate threat” was identified by the Department of Public Safety.

About halfway through the 2021 session, SB222 was introduced. Among other things, the bill allowed for a security detail for state officials when there is a “demonstrable need or a specifically identified threat” to an individual. The legislation carried an annual price tag of $680,000 in ongoing funds for the additional security.

The fiscal note for SB222 also contained $500,000 in one-time money. Since those funds are finite, they usually pay for equipment and buildings.

The bill does not detail how that one-time money is to be spent. Neither does SB3, the annual appropriations bill. It only says the $500,000 is to “implement the provisions of” SB222. The published budget only makes passing mention of the legislation, noting the ongoing and one-time funds are for “added security for executive (constitutional officers) and the Legislature based on threat levels.”

Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, confirmed to The Tribune that the one-time appropriation in SB222 was meant to pay for the security improvements to Cox’s property. $260,000 is for the security building, with the remaining money to pay for the security fences and equipment.

It remains a mystery who made the request, how the appropriation was inserted into the bill, and why it was funded.

Public presentations on the bill during the 2021 session made no mention of the security construction on Cox’s property. The legislation was heard only once in committee for a total of two minutes and 30 seconds with no questions or debate from lawmakers.

Ipson presented the bill twice on the Senate floor and did not broach the subject of the new building. During floor debate, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, asked Ipson what additional security resources the bill authorized beyond what was already in use. Ipson started his answer by mentioning the Capitol area. He appeared to catch himself, pivoting to broaden his response, beyond Salt Lake City.

“This directs public protection to do certain things to be sure that our Capitol Hill ... so the people know that the people here are protected by this bill and it puts the tools and the money in place to do it,” Ipson said.

The Senate debated the bill for a total of 6 minutes. Discussion on the House floor mainly was members expressing support for the bill. The security office on Cox’s property was not mentioned.

The only language from the bill that could be interpreted as an authorization for the spending is on line 105, which says the Department of Public Safety is to “provide for the security and protection of public officials.”

Gov. Cox’s office and the Department of Public Safety denied open records requests from the Tribune, explaining records about security measures are not subject to open records laws.

Cox’s office responded to questions about the security building with an email statement from spokesperson Jennifer Napier-Pearce.

“This project is the result of recommendations by the Department of Public Safety. In light of security concerns, we can’t offer further information,” Napier-Pearce said.

Cox responded on Twitter after this story was first published, claiming he had offered to reimburse the state for the security upgrades.

Cox’s office did not offer this information when The Tribune approached them for comment. There is also no record of Cox making this offer prior to his social media post.

The current plans for the security building appear to have been scaled back significantly from when they were first introduced in April.

The initial bid documents called for a larger building more like a guest house than a security building. The original plans detailed an attached garage, locker area, bedroom, living room and kitchen. The plans also called for extending Cox’s automatic sprinkler system. Any damaged trees from the construction would be replaced with new “flowering pear” trees. One section of the bid asked contractors to apply a seal coat on Cox’s entire driveway “with attention paid to the patched areas.”

The August plans are for a smaller building with the garage replaced by a carport. The driveway seal has also been removed, but the request for the “flowering pear” trees remains.

It is unknown whether construction has started on Cox’s property, but the timeline calls for the project to be finished next month.