Summit County is considering putting a $50 million bond for open space on the ballot |

Summit County is considering putting a $50 million bond for open space on the ballot

Amount would be the largest ever request of its kind in the area

The Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District used proceeds from a 2004 open space bond to purchase a conservation easement on part of the Hi Ute Ranch, pictured in 2013, including the barn and front pastures. The Summit County Council is considering a $50 million bond to conserve open space, which would be the largest ever of its kind in the area.
Park Record file photo

The Summit County Council is considering asking voters to support a $50 million bond to fund open space conservation. It would be the largest such borrowing in the county’s history and the first time the county asks residents outside of the Snyderville Basin to support a tax increase for land conservation.

The $50 million mark is slightly more than the $48 million Park City voters approved in 2018, which was largely spent to finance the Treasure land deal, and twice as much as a 2014 offering from the Snyderville Basin Recreation District, the largest ever from a county entity.

The discussion arose at the end of a long County Council meeting Wednesday night. County Manager Tom Fisher asked councilors to suggest a dollar figure for the bond so that staffers could prepare impact estimates for another discussion next week.

There is a tight turnaround for the measure to be placed on November’s ballot. The county would have to submit documentation to the lieutenant governor’s office by Aug. 19. Wednesday’s discussion sets up more detailed talks in the next two weeks.

Public hearings are required before the measure would be placed on November’s ballot, though not before the council considers whether to pass a resolution announcing its intent to pursue a bond, which could come Aug. 18.

Glenn Wright, who chairs the County Council, suggested starting with a large enough figure that, if it were reduced, would still accomplish meaningful land preservation goals.

“I think we need a number that’s big enough that we could shrink if we decide to, but … to do that we need to have further discussions to decide what our purpose is,” Wright said. “I think a reasonably large number that won’t choke people. Then if we dial it back after further discussions, we can do that.”

The $50 million total was the only number suggested.

The council would likely have the final say on how the money would be spent, though the process by which projects would be recommended has not been decided. There are appointed boards on both sides of the county that recommend conservation projects.

Fisher in the meeting and Councilor Chris Robinson in a subsequent interview said the process was in the early stages and that initiating discussions does not mean the bond will be on the ballot in November, nor at the amount indicated Wednesday.

Robinson said that the council has been “noodling on it for a couple months” and that low interest rates — below 2% for a 25-year general obligation bond, he estimated — might make the timing advantageous. But he said that was only one factor.

“The more compelling reason is that there’s a lot going on, especially on the East Side of the county. … There’s a lot of development activity, and some of those important places will either not be around or be much more expensive in the future,” Robinson said.

By offering general obligation bonds, residents across the entire county would see a tax increase, but the funds could be used anywhere in the county. Previous bond measures for open space in the county have been restricted to the Snyderville Basin Recreation District.

“We don’t really have a funding source that’s robust that could be used anywhere in the county,” Robinson said.

Though much of the tax revenue would be raised in the western side of the county, Robinson said he hoped residents would be open to the idea of spending it to conserve land on the East Side.

He said there weren’t any particular projects the council had in mind, though he noted that land around the Weber River tends to attract developers.

Multiple councilors have recently stressed the importance of keeping the prominent meadow in the Kamas Valley intact and free from development.

Voters multiple times have approved requests from the Snyderville Basin Recreation District to bond for open space, conservation and trails. Voters within the district’s borders — which exclude Park City — supported bonds in 1995, 2001, 2004, 2010 and 2014, according to the district. Those bonds totalled $73.5 million.

Voters generally supported those efforts overwhelmingly, though a 2006 Basin Rec facilities bond for $12 million failed at the polls.

Voters inside Park City limits supported bonds for conservation or open space purposes five times between 1998 and 2018. Those bonds totalled $113 million, with $73 million of that coming in 2016 and 2018.

Voter-approved open space bonds, by the numbers

$7.5 million in 1995, Basin Rec

$10 million in 1998, Park City

$11 million in 2001, Basin Rec

$10 million in 2002, Park City

$10 million in 2004, Basin Rec

$20 million in 2006, Park City

$20 million in 2010, Basin Rec

$25 million in 2014, Basin Rec

$25 million in 2016, Park City

$48 million in 2018, Park City

Notable acreage that has been purchased or protected using bond proceeds include portions of Round Valley, the Hi-Ute conservation easement, Bonanza Flat and the Treasure hillside above Old Town.

Councilors indicated they would consult with neighboring taxing jurisdictions that also might be planning to ask voters for a bond. The Park City and South Summit school districts have discussed their need to bond for facilities.

Councilor Roger Armstrong indicated he supported the initiative.

“I do think this is critical to help us shape the future of the county,” Armstrong said.

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