Summit County hears support for $50M bond proposal, warnings of East Side skepticism
Kamas Valley residents want assurances some money will be spent there
A handful of people commented Wednesday night about Summit County’s $50 million open space bond measure, mostly offering support but indicating officials should work to shore up trust among East Side voters.
Multiple members of a group called Friends of Kamas Valley attended the meeting in Coalville and asked the council to in some way guarantee what councilors have said is their intention to spend the bond proceeds largely on the East Side of the county. They also requested the council hold a public meeting in Kamas to discuss the bond.
One commenter, who identified herself as Terina Atkinson Darcey, told the council she supported the measure and indicated it could help preserve the history and culture of the Kamas Valley.
“As I speak about it to my resident friends, they’re a little dubious that such a thing could happen. And that, being the poor relation, that any of it will actually come to Kamas,” she said. “That’s their biggest concern. It’s not even the tax liability, they’re willing to pay that $50 to come over the hill and see some of the farmland and pastures retained.”
The county is proposing to borrow $50 million to buy land and conservation easements and to construct recreational amenities like trails and trailheads. The money could also be used for measures that support environmental health and wildlife.
Officials have estimated the tax impact on a $685,000 primary residence at $45 to $50 annually.
Several commenters Wednesday night spoke to the importance of conserving land and the negative environmental impacts that development could have on the water that flows through the Kamas Valley.
They also indicated the importance of acting now to preserve what is left of the area’s rural heritage.
Councilors have indicated the effort is critically needed now as the East Side faces increasing development pressure.
Development proposals of hundreds of homes are moving through municipal approval processes in East Side cities and large tracts of land are on the market.
The bond proceeds could be used to purchase development rights in conservation easements, which allow landowners to earn money from their land without seeing it turned into a subdivision.
Though bonding to pay for open space is nothing new in the Park City area, it is the first time the question has been asked of East Side voters. All county voters will be asked to decide the fate of the bond on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. Also on the ballot will be a $79 million school bond for voters in the Park City School District.
Some have indicated the county’s bonding process has been rushed, with its first mention in a public meeting occurring in August only days before a statutory deadline to place it on the ballot. The ballots are in the process of being printed with the bond question and will be mailed Oct. 12.
Questions remain about how the county will select projects to finance and whether the public will have access to the conserved lands, which isn’t always afforded on privately held land where conservation easements are put in place.
Councilors have not identified specific projects to spend the money on but have indicated the areas of critical concern are the Weber Basin corridor and areas of the Kamas Valley. They also indicated there are not many opportunities left to purchase open space for conservation in the Snyderville Basin.
David Thomas, the county’s chief civil deputy attorney, said the council would provide more specificity about projects in a public meeting if the measure passes and the county chooses to issue the bonds.
At the meeting Wednesday, David Darcey, a Kamas resident, spoke in favor of the bond, but he indicated the county has work to do to earn the trust of East Side residents.
“I have heard pushback from a number of individuals, who also vote, who quite frankly do not trust the process or are questioning raising taxes to purchase private land. The county needs to be very clear and transparent as to the process of land acquisition before it goes to a vote,” he said. “If people even start to think that there is going to be forced condemnation or a farmer is not going to be able to farm their land, this bond will go down in defeat in Kamas Valley.”
In a subsequent interview, Darcey indicated some feared the county would use the money to take land from farmers.
“People are saying, ‘Well, I won’t trust anything (the county says),’ ‘I heard farmer XYZ got his land condemned and he’s no longer able to farm on it,’” Darcey said.
Another commentator also brought up the issue of condemnation, prompting councilors to ask Thomas to address the issue. He said the county could not use the bond proceeds to condemn land.
“Unless the purposing of the bond included eminent domain, you can’t use it for that, and the bond resolution does not provide for it,” Thomas said.
Darcey indicated a level of distrust exists between some longtime South Summit residents and the county. He referenced struggles landowners have in accessing the equity in their land, their inability to deed a portion of their land to a family member to build a house and what some see as arbitrary wetlands designations that can prevent land from being used in certain ways.
“I think people’s perceptions are their reality. That’s what I think we’re dealing with over here in the Kamas Valley, maybe a little bit of distrust of the system or what will the county ultimately do,” he said.
He welcomed the council’s apparent openness to the idea of scheduling a meeting in South Summit. Another public hearing is scheduled Wednesday at the Sheldon Richins County Services Building at Kimball Junction.
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