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SUMMIT DEFENDS FUND USE

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Use of $45 in taxpayers' money by Summit County to help circulate pro-Olympic material to 8,000 county residents is a highly inappropriate use of public money, anti-Olympic forces charged Friday.

But in the face of criticism over the expenditure, Summit County was repaid Friday for the cost.In an Oct. 2 letter to nearly 8,000 Summit County residents, County Commission Chairman Jim Soter urged residents to vote "yes" on the non-binding Nov. 7 referendum.

"After looking at the situation, knowing that no Summit County taxes will be used to fund these events . . . I feel confident that the Olympics will have a major, positive effect on our county," Soter wrote in the letter.

While postage, envelopes and labor for the mailing were paid for by the Park City Chamber of Commerce, which is itself 90 percent funded by the county, Summit County produced, at its own expense, the mailing labels for the letter.

County Clerk Douglas Geary said the county gave the labels, costing $45, to the chamber because the chamber is under contract with the county to promote tourism.

Further, the money for the labels came from the county's transient room tax, which is designed to generate funds for promoting tourism-related endeavors such as the Olympics, Geary said.

"The county views the transient room tax as a tool to promote tourism. The issue we're looking at is that the Olympics will have a tourism impact on Summit County," Geary said.

But anti-Olympics forces - saying the principle, not the amount, is the issue - claimed the county is using public funds for a political enterprise.

"They're using public funds to try to influence the outcome of a tax referendum. It's as simple as that," said Alexis Kelner, chairman of Utahns for Responsible Public Spending.

Utahns will vote Nov. 7 on whether the state should use $56 million in public funding for Olympic facilities - money that would be paid back if the Olympics are economically successful.

Kelner called Geary's associating promoting the Olympics with promoting tourism "the most devious logic I have ever heard."

Transient room tax money is public money, Kelner said. "They are not given public money to influence elections. It's a horrible use of public funds," he said.

Kelner also said he objected to the chamber, which enjoys an estimated $800,000 annually in county transient room tax, participating in the mailing.

"And we don't know if Summit County is an isolated incident," he added, saying that other counties could be funding similar pro-Olympic campaigns.

While the debate over use of the public money raged Friday, by late afternoon, Park City Chamber Director Russ Beenema agreed to pay the county for the mailing labels.

Beenema said he wrote the county a check for $145 - the cost of the mailing labels for non-county users.

The Summit County letter includes a brochure from the pro-Olympics group Olympics for Utah, Inc.

Olympics for Utah, responding to the Park City Chamber of Commerce, gave the chamber thousands of the 300,000 brochures printed, executive director Vicki Varela said. The organizations distributes brochures to a "wide range of interest groups that want to send out mailings," she said.