It finally happened. After nearly two years of meetings, hearings, arguments, attempted persuasion, frustration and negotiations, Sevier county is finally getting out of the Central Utah Project.
All land in Sevier County has been excluded from the CUP by order of 4th District Court Judge Boyd Park. The order supports a proposal of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.The ruling isn't satisfactory to county officials but likely won't be appealed. "I will talk to commissioners, but I would be surprised if they pursue further action," said County Attorney Don Brown.
About $530,000 and some interest money will go into Sevier County coffers during the next two years, but how it will be used hasn't been determined. "We have heard from agriculture interests and will hear from others, but it will be up to the commission to decide what they need to do with it," Brown said.
Even if taxpayers don't directly benefit from the refund, they will in the future as a result of the withdrawal from the CUP. They will no longer have to pay annual assessment taxes that they have been paying for more than 25 years.
The annual savings to a taxpayer with a home valued at $100,000 will amount to about $22.
Under the court order, Sevier County will get an initial refund of $190,000. This will be followed by additional payments in 1995 and 1996 of $170,00 plus interest.
Brown, who has waged a long verbal battle with the Central Utah Water Conservancy District board for a satisfactory settlement, believes county taxpayers have paid dearly for the benefits of a few small projects in which some funding has been received from the water district.
Sevier County taxpayers have paid nearly $3.2 million into the CUP but direct benefits have amounted to only about $1 million. The attorney therefore concludes the district should have repaid the county about $2.3 million plus interest.
One major point of contention arose from the CUP Completion Act that was passed by Congress in the fall of 1992. A provision of the legislation allowed for counties to withdraw and get refunds of all tax money that had been put into the project, less administrative costs and funding of small projects that were financed through the water conservancy district that benefited the counties. Brown, realizing the county wouldn't get the $2.3 million he felt was owed, fought to get an $800,000 refund that with interest would have amounted to about $910,000.
Sevier County has also taken issue with the board's contention that the county was liable for bond payments in connection with indebtedness while the county was in the CUP. Brown and the commission counter that the county shouldn't be responsible for bond payments because of the lack of benefits received.
Sevier officials believe the county has not been treated fairly by the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.
Brown said he has "a lot of empathy for the CUWCD Board" but said, "The staff throughout the proceedings gave representations that were not true. At various times they told us things that later turned out to be false."
The attorney said board members, because of their diversity and the time element, have to depend on the staff for information used in making decisions.
Commissioners in Millard and Sevier counties began efforts to withdraw from the CUP in 1993 at the request of water users who believed costs would far outweigh benefits.
Initial plans were to deliver some 30,000 acre-feet of water annually into the Sevier River Basin from the CUP through aqueducts and pumping stations. Then officials learned that would amount to only about 10,000 acre-feet if and when the water was eventually delivered.
Commissioners in the respective counties opted to put the issue on a ballot before making a decision to withdraw from the CUP. The resolution won overwhelming support. It was favored by 86 percent of Sevier County taxpayers who voted on the issue.
Millard County withdrew several months ago, getting back 1994 taxes in a settlement that Sevier County rejected. Millard was in a better position to accept the settlement, however, because of the substantial taxes paid into the project from the Intermountain Power Plant operation.
Five south-central Utah counties have been involved in the CUP. Commissioners in Sanpete, Piute and Garfield counties have to date opted not to withdraw.