County commissioners crash Summit Water’s meeting Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff
Summit Water Distribution Company President Hy Saunders cranked up the heat this week in the Snyderville Basin water war by accusing Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer of threatening his business when Saunders sued the county several years ago.
"[Richer] was very angry because I filed this lawsuit," Saunders told his shareholders Thursday about a telephone call Richer placed to him after he filed the complaint. "Mr. Richer threatened me on the telephone he told me, ‘You could say goodbye to your East Canyon Pipeline.’"
But that’s a lie, yelled Richer, who was standing in the crowd at the Summit Water shareholders meeting.
"I don’t recall a conversation that I had with Hy," Richer said, responding to Saunders’ charge during a telephone interview Friday. Saunders conducted the meeting for about 50 shareholders to discuss a one-time rate hike the private water company plans to assess its customers to cover payments for back taxes Summit Water may owe. According to Summit Water general manager Van Martin, from Jan. 1, 2006, to Oct. 1, 2006, an additional $45 will be tacked on quarterly to every acre-foot of water sold to potentially cover $540,000 worth of tax payments.
Since Summit County formed its Mountain Regional Water Special Service District about six years ago, the government and Summit Water have competed viciously for customers in Snyderville. But while the county was gobbling up smaller West Side water companies in an attempt to "regionalize" service, past county commissioners attempted to condemn Summit Water when Saunders refused to sell.
Along with a multi-million dollar antitrust lawsuit pending against the county in Third District Court, Summit Water has also disputed in court around $260,000 worth of taxes the county has attempted to collect that the company claims is "double taxation" and unconstitutional.
Public water entities are exempt from paying personal property taxes and Summit Water officials claim their customers also should not be taxed for infrastructure like pipelines and reservoirs. However, Summit Water attorneys claim the Summit County Assessor’s Office threatened recently to seize Summit Water’s assets unless disputed taxes were paid in full.
"It’s all been resolved," Richer said during a telephone interview Friday.
Saunders began Thursday’s meeting by playing a clip of Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott criticizing Summit Water officials to a local radio reporter Thursday morning for not paying their taxes.
"To suggest that Summit Water does not pay its taxes is not accurate," Summit Water attorney John Flitton responded. "These personal property taxes are taxes that you have to pay as shareholders of Summit Water." After publicly noticing the appearance, all three Summit County commissioners and Summit County Assessor Barbara Kresser showed up Thursday to counter potential misinformation.
According to Kresser, 26 other private water companies in Summit County are required to pay personal property taxes on the same items as Summit Water.
But the company’s shareholders lambasted the politicians Thursday night. Instead of discussing the rate increase, residents blamed the County Commission for the failed condemnation attempt and a recent decision by the Utah Supreme Court that sided with Summit Water and overturned a district court decision in favor of the county in the antitrust case.
"It’s not only a victory for Hy Saunders, it’s a victory for the citizens of Summit County," Park City resident John McMillan said about the Supreme Court case.
Looking at the commissioners, McMillan said, "it doesn’t have to be the way you made it be you’ll wish you never started this."
"[Commissioners are] not ethical and they’ve hurt Summit County greatly," McMillan added.
Richer, though, questioned why a Park City resident like McMillan cares so passionately when he isn’t even served by Summit Water.
"They’re investors and they’ve invested lots of money in [Summit Water]," Richer said. "They want Mountain Regional to go away."
Without the county, Summit Water would have had the opportunity to monopolize water delivery in Snyderville, the commissioner added.
"It’s a western war over water," Richer said. "It’s about money."
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