The Salt Lake County Commission closed a chapter in the years-long water battle in Hi-Country Estates Wednesday despite objections from a homeowner there and the president of the water company.
The commission opened a public hearing April 10 over whether a new taxing entity could be created in the sparcely-populated subdivision located near Herriman in the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains. Residents have petitioned the commission to create a special service area that might be used to purchase Foothills Water Company. One option would then be for the service area to sell the water system to the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District.At the advice of the county attorney's office, the commission closed the hearing Wednesday and set in motion a 15-day comment period and 30-day period in which those who petitioned for the special service district could change their minds. Commission Chairman Mike Stewart said the matter has been before the commission too long.
The commission plans to vote Nov. 6 on whether to establish the special taxing district. No protests had been received as of Wednesday, reported deputy county attorney Kevan Smith.
Foothills owner Rod Dansie told commissioners Stewart and Tom Shimizu a special service district wouldn't be such a bad idea if the homeowners intended to pay him fair market value for the water system. He doesn't believe that will happen. Dansie also believes most of the Hi-Country landowners are being left out of the decisionmaking process, even though all landowners would have to pay taxes to the new taxing entity if it levied a tax.
Property owners who are not registered to vote from a Hi-Country address would have no say in whether a special service district there levied taxes or sold bonds, Smith said.
Creating a special service district could also create double taxation, Dansie contends, because Hi-Country landowners are taxed by the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District, even though the district has never provided water to the subdivision and has no water lines connecting the subdivision with the rest of its water system.
The value of the water system is supposed to be determined by a 3rd District Court judge next year as part of a 5-year-old lawsuit, according to a report to the commission by county Public Works Director Terry Holzworth. "We understand the court has determined the homeowners have title to the system but that Mr. Dansie is entitled to compensation for its value which has not been determined," he wrote.
Holzworth recommends the special service district as a vehicle to transfer the water system to the county water conservancy district for operation. He recommended against establishing a water system that would be controlled by county government.
Dansie suggested the homeowners might want to use the special service district to operate the water system themselves without turning control over to the county conservancy district. "I have a hard time believing the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District couldn't do a better job than a special service area," he said.
Dansie and Steve Maxfield, who said he owns two lots in the subdivision, urged the commission to extend the comment period to 45 days and notify all property owners of the proposal. Only about 30 people living in 25 homes were notified and given an opportunity to protest the new taxing district. Most of the homeowners live out of state, Maxfield said, and will have no say in the new taxing district unless they are notified.
Smith told the commission the notices that were mailed and public notices in newspapers filled the legal requirements for notification. Dansie and Maxfield countered that still leaves a majority of the property owners out of the process.