Summit County votes to put $50M open space bond on November’s ballot
Open space conservation deal would be largest in county’s history
The Summit County Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to ask voters to approve borrowing $50 million to conserve open space and pursue other environmental and recreational projects.
County officials estimated the tax impact would be about $40 per year on a primary home worth $715,000 and about $73 annually for a business or secondary home.
The council needed to approve the measure to meet a statutory deadline of Aug. 19 to get it on the ballot, but was told it could still decide to reduce the bond amount or abandon the effort entirely.
It now appears the final deadline for modifying what will appear on the ballot is Aug. 30, according to Summit County Clerk Eve Furse.
For voters within the Park City School District boundaries, which comprises the western side of the county, there could be nearly $130 million in bond questions on November’s ballot. The district approved a $79.2 million bond to update school buildings Tuesday, the day before the County Council opted to put the open space bond on the ballot.
County officials said they would take into consideration other taxing jurisdictions’ plans.
County Councilor Chris Robinson said “the impact of this bond on other taxing entities’ aspirations” is something the council should “think hard about” before placing the bond on the ballot.
Park City Board of Education members declined to comment about the county’s decision.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Furse told the councilors that, for logistical reasons involving creating the physical ballots, they faced an Aug. 30 deadline to modify what would go on the ballot.
County Council Chair Glenn Wright said Thursday a draft agenda for the next meeting did not contain a plan to revisit the bond, indicating it would appear on the ballot. He said the county could opt to declare the measure “non-valid” after Aug. 30, which would keep it from taking effect, but not prevent it from appearing on the ballot.
It would be the largest bond for open space from a local government in the area. Park City issued a $48 million bond in 2018, largely to facilitate the Treasure preservation deal. It is double the size of the previous largest offered by a county-controlled entity, which was a $25 million open space and recreation bond from the Snyderville Basin Recreation District in 2014.
The vote came a day before a deadline to submit paperwork to the lieutenant governor’s office and two weeks after the issue was first discussed at any length in a public meeting.
The resolution passed by the council — Councilor Doug Clyde was absent — enables the county to issue bonds not to exceed $50 million for “the acquisition of passive and active open space, conservation easements, and constructing recreational amenities and environmental and wildlife mitigation measures and related improvements.”
Officials indicated projects could include trails, trailheads, environmental protection measures like preventing future development and installing wildlife fencing.
Councilors previously discussed reducing the amount of the bond if the elected officials received pushback from the public. But Wednesday’s vote came before a public hearing on the issue.
The council voted to hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. during its Sept. 22 meeting at the Ledges Event Center in Coalville. Councilor Roger Armstrong suggested, and other councilors agreed, the council should hold another public hearing in the Snyderville Basin.
This would be the first time such a question is asked of East Side voters. Previous open-space-related bonds have been issued by Park City or the Snyderville Basin Recreation District, covering only residents within those boundaries.
All county voters will be able to weigh in on the question in November and would foot the bill on their property taxes.
Councilors have indicated they do not have a specific project in mind similar to the Treasure deal, but have indicated generally that they hope the money may be spent to preserve land on the East Side.
Councilor Chris Robinson indicated potential targets could include land abutting the Weber River and prominent open spaces in Kamas.
“With the low interest rates, with the growth pressures and with the rising property values, it seems like having this pool of money to leverage against other state and federal dollars and private fundraising would be helpful,” Robinson said earlier in August. “… It’s either do something now or wait a year.”
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