Summit County Council adopts new open space bond spending criteria

Open Space Advisory Committee members also appointed

Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

The Summit County Council on Wednesday adopted a resolution establishing criteria for how $50 million in general obligation bond money can be used to acquire open space.

The elected officials opted to make several changes to the proposal after the Summit Land Conservancy raised concerns at the previous meeting about whether the new guidelines would hinder the acquisition process instead of protecting the county’s interests. 

The County Council agreed to keep elements of the original document, including requiring properties to go through the entire Open Space Advisory Committee process and prohibiting the county from using bond monies as loans, but they removed a section about ownership requirements.

Land conservancies during an Aug. 24 meeting argued against a stipulation requiring sellers to have owned a property for two years. The measure was introduced to safeguard bond dollars against people who might be “gaming the system” or “flipping” properties, Chris Robinson, the County Council chair, explained at the time.

A staff report published before Wednesday’s meeting indicated the resolution would amend the requirement. That version said a seller who has owned the proposed property for less than two years must fully disclose to the county all terms and conditions of prior sales before it can be acquired.

However, on Wednesday, County Councilor Doug Clyde said he would not support the resolution unless the entire section was removed. He argued the measure, even amended, didn’t serve a purpose and will only lead to confusion.

“It’s not unreasonable to think that we may enter into a deal where the seller may not want to disclose what his transactions were and we don’t care. We’ve got to buy it at fair market value. We have no choice. Or they could give it to us. But this whole thing is dealing in something that involves people’s personal taxes, relationships with their uncle. I mean these are crazy things to be demanding of somebody who is going to sell us a piece of property,” Clyde said. 

He concluded, “And I will vote against it if it’s not deleted.”

County Councilor Roger Armstrong agreed with Clyde that family transfers may be included in prior transactions, but he said he fears there is “potential for manipulating the system” without the clause. 

Robinson indicated he was in favor of the ownership requirement as a safeguard and because recent transactions are the best indicators of a property’s value. Clyde agreed that is important but he said the seller shouldn’t have to disclose that information to the public. 

“I think that what often happens is somebody would buy a property today and keep that information confidential. Tomorrow, attain appraisals on subsets of the property and then have the county purchase that subset for an inflated value,” Robinson said. “I think it’s important from a transparency standpoint to know what the initial deal was and whether it’s simultaneous or whether it happened in the recent past.”

Clyde replied, “We just need to make our best decision based on the fair market value at the time and what the past transactions were about is none of our business.”

The County Council debated changing the section’s language further, but Dave Thomas, the county’s chief civil deputy attorney, advised the group it could be open to interpretation and they may not receive the information they’d expect. 

County Councilor Glenn Wright made a motion to remove the section about ownership requirements, which was seconded by Clyde. Robinson was the only member opposed. The County Council then voted to adopt the resolution as amended.

Other changes to the resolution included clarifying that the county is required to have a line of contact with a seller when working with a third party, such as a land trust, to secure open space for preservation. The seller and third party must disclose the entire transaction with the county, including terms and purchase price. No bond funds will be used for properties that fail to fully disclose.

Following the discussion, the County Council appointed three members from each regional advisory group – which represent North Summit, South Summit and the West Side – to the Open Space Advisory Committee. 

Representing the North Summit committee on the board are Tonja Hanson, Bridget Hayes and Terry Diston. Hanson is the chair of the regional advisory committee and was nominated by the mayor of Coalville. Hayes is the group’s secretary.

Wesley Siddoway, Phares Gines and Jan Perkins were appointed from the South Summit group. Siddoway and Gines are the chair and vice chair of the regional advisory group.

West Side representatives include Joan Card, Dorothy Adams and Graham Anthony. Card is the vice chair. Adams is the secretary. 

The appointments to the Open Space Advisory Committee expire in August 2025.

The regional groups are tasked with creating a set of standards and values that will be used by the executive committee to determine which properties should be acquired. The groups began meeting in mid-July. County officials estimated the regional advisory groups could take up to three months to develop criteria for the best use of land in their respective areas, which will then be used by county staffers and the Open Space Advisory Committee.

Interim County Manager Janna Young said the ordinance facilitates a public process for how the bond money is used. The county promised to give voters a say in how the $50 million would be spent throughout Summit County after they approved the land-preserving measure in November. 

Summit County

Summit County’s 2024 budget is still a work in progress

The first public hearing about tax increases is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Sheldon Richins Building located at 1885 West Ute Blvd. The second hearing is set for Dec. 13 at the Summit County Courthouse. Both meetings will be live streamed.

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