Local ballot propositions
October 21, 2016
I'm still trying to figure the election out. Not the national one — that's beyond comprehension on so many levels that I've given up on it. There are some local issues that have me a little confused. Since I don't live in the city, I can't vote on the bond to buy Bonanza Flats. Years ago, I was a big supporter of open space proposals. But there is the downside to open space, which is growth that would have happened in Park City is now squirting over into the Kamas Valley. It's wonderful to have preserved Round Valley as a playground. It's maybe less wonderful if the result is an explosion of suburban bliss on the former pastures of Kamas Valley.
Traffic access for Bonanza Flats is on Marsac Avenue, which is a state highway even though it looks like an alley. The land is in Wasatch County, and if you like what's happening around Jordanelle, you'd love what they would approve on Bonanza Flats. So I suspect if I lived in the City limits, I'd vote for the bond in a traffic mitigation effort as a desire to have open space in a location that is covered with snow most of the time. And then the growth that doesn't happen on Bonanza Flats happens someplace else that might be equally impactful to others. Nothing is easy.
The County has two propositions on the ballot asking to raise the sales tax for a combined 0.5 percent. The two provisions are slightly different, with one directed more toward transit and the other toward road improvements, but there is enough overlap in those categories that the two really are more or less a package deal. The primary argument in favor of it seems to be that tourists will pay most of it, even though residents cause the traffic problem.
If passed, sales tax in the City would go up to about 8.45 percent, and in the County, it would be about 6.85 percent. I have to say "about" because sales tax is surprisingly hard to figure out. It doesn't apply to food, unless it is prepared food, and if you sit down to eat it, there is an extra tax for "zoos, arts and parks." So the rates are different if you are buying ham for a sandwich, a ham sandwich at a restaurant, or if you are buying a pair of shoes. And if you are in a hotel, there is the transient room tax. I tried to figure out what that rate is. The maximum is 4.25 percent on top of the general sales tax, but I'm not sure if either the city or county has set it at the maximum rate. It all begins to add up, and when a visitor checks out of their hotel or condo, the bill could have a 10 percent or 12% percent sales tax added to it. It eventually begins to matter.
The difficulty is that while we are willing to pay for the bus, actually getting on one is an entirely different matter.
We are choking on traffic, and it's going to get worse. In a town where probably half of the adult population has a real estate license, the odds of turning off the growth spigot seem dubious. It would be an interesting exercise to say that we have reached the reasonable carrying capacity of our resources — air, water, land, infrastructure — and quit building. That would really squirt to growth to Jordanelle, Kamas and Heber, which then adds to the traffic issues by creating longer commutes. So even if there were legal means to say the building permit window was closed and boarded up forever, it doesn't solve the problem. It just moves it around.
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So paying a modest amount more on everything to try to mitigate traffic seems reasonable. Fixing problem intersections is part of it, and would be a big help. I'm less convinced that building high occupancy vehicle lanes works. It sounds good. It has the potential to create some new job opportunities. In lots of big cities with HOV lanes, people make pretty good money as "slugs." For $5, slugs will silently ride in your passenger seat through the worst of the traffic jam, then get out and get a ride back the other direction so somebody else can use the HOV lane going that way. It's not a career, but if somebody could pick up an extra $30 every day during rush hour, it would help them pay the increased sales tax, and then some.
But the real premise of all of it is that if we throw enough money at a regional bus system, maybe somebody else will ride the bus, clearing traffic for us. The difficulty is that while we are willing to pay for the bus, actually getting on one is an entirely different matter.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.