The 50th Utah Legislature generally did a good job on issues affecting local governments, ac-cording to a roomful of mayors and county commissioners.
Upon reviewing their legislative checklists Thursday, the local government leaders said lawmakers addressed most of the local priorities, including some key appropriations and self-rule measures.The mayors and commissioners of the Salt Lake County Council of Governments said they were especially grateful for:
- $9 million to extend the West Valley Highway.
- $1 million to improve the freeway interchange at 9000 South on I-15.
- $1.2 million for the local trails and riverways program.
- $250,000 this year with the possibility of more in future years to house state felons in county jails.
- A bill allowing a non-binding referendum on a 0.01 percent sales tax increase to fund the arts and zoos.
- A bill banning the disposal of used tires in landfills and releasing a trust fund to subsidize and encourage tire recycling.
- Rejection of a bill prohibiting local governments from hiring lobbyists.
Also, the Legislature rejected a number of measures that could have cost local governments millions of dollars by imposing new programs or withdrawing existing funding. "We escaped some major hits," said Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi.
Commission Chairman Jim Bradley told the council the sales-tax option for the arts probably will be presented to Salt Lake County voters as soon as it's feasible. Although the vote would be non-binding, commissioners indicated they would not likely impose the higher tax against the wishes of voters.
"Absolutely not," said Horiuchi. "It will be up to the people."
The council congratulated Murray Mayor Lynn Pett for his successful efforts on behalf of the riverways bill, SB35, which is expected to benefit all of the communities in the valley. Through its enhancement of the Jordan River within its borders, Murray has demonstrated the efficacy of the riverways program, the officials said.
Horiuchi, a former lobbyist, called SB35 "one of the best-lobbied bills I've seen in a long, long time."
Sandy Mayor Larry Smith expressed satisfaction with the legislative rejection of a five-year moratorium on annexations, although he said amendments to the bill had made it more palatable. The Senate-sponsored moratorium died before it reached the House.
Vowing to resolve annexation disputes at the local level, council members voted Thursday to move ahead with a "make-or-break" process aimed at achieving boundary stability before the end of the year. The council appointed mayors Smith, Bill Levitt of Alta, Deedee Corradini of Salt Lake City, Eldon Farnsworth of South Salt Lake, and Commissioner Jim Bradley to serve on a new annexation policy committee to tackle the issue.
Smith and West Jordan City Manager Jim Reems said some progress has already been made through informal discussions with the county. Smith said officials are considering calling a truce along disputed borders.
Commissioner Brent Overson noted that the Legislature did not act on bills that would have repealed or amended the law authorizing a light-rail option that voters rejected last year. Some council members had hoped the Legislature would replace the light-rail provision with a less specific mass transit option that could be used to enhance bus service or road systems.
The council was prepared to discuss the light-rail issue Thursday as it relates to a proposed transportation corridor through the valley, only to be derailed by the news that the Utah Transit Authority's purchase of the right-of-way was a "done deal."
John Inglish, assistant general manager of the UTA, informed the council that documents had already been signed in the purchase, giving UTA the rights over the Union Pacific corridor from 900 South to Point of the Mountain for $18.5 million.
The purchase excludes freight rights from midnight to 5 a.m., he said, explaining that a short-line operator would use that right-of-way window if UTA ever develops light rail.
Inglish also disclosed that UTA tried to extend the right-of-way into Utah County, but managed to secure only the right of first refusal on a future purchase.
While expressing frustration at being left out of the information loop, council members said they will become more involved through a master planning process that would preserve the right-of-way as a transportation corridor and protect east-west crossings.