After years of tense interaction, touched off by creation of a mayors' association and debate over double taxation, Salt Lake County is engaged in a not-so-subtle effort to reknit relations with local cities.
It's putting paramedics and Dimple Dell Park in Sandy and a pool and equestrian park in Draper. It bought a historic schoolhouse for Magna and the Quest Fitness Center for South Jordan.For West Jordan there's a $1 million soccer complex while West Valley City has received a pledge of help for its arts/recreation center. Just to mention a few of the county's goodwill gestures.
The county's new attitude and largess is not going unnoticed.
Murray Mayor Lynn Pett sent a letter to the commission recently observing with "great interest Salt Lake County's renewed commitment to assist municipalities with new and enhanced recreation facilities." He then went on to ask for $500,000 in next year's budget to renovate the Murray Park pool.
Odds are he'll get at least some of the money he wants, as the commission, under the direction of Brent Overson, tries to forge strengthened bonds with the cities.
"We are trying to be good neighbors and cultivate a good relationship with them," Overson acknowledges.
That sort of attitude hasn't characterized some county/city interactions in recent years. For example, the county's relationship with Sandy City's prior administration was akin to "cats and dogs," Overson said. In one instance the county offered to help plow Sandy City streets during a major snowstorm; the city refused, like a proud, stubborn child.
"In the past Sandy had an attitude that we'll do it ourselves," current Mayor Tom Dolan said, attributing the bad blood to "personality conflicts."
A rift between the mayors and the commission widened in 1993 when the mayors formed the Conference of Salt Lake Valley Mayors. Commissioners were offended by the move. Former Commissioner Jim Bradley said at the time the move signaled intergovernmental warfare.
"We frankly have had a little difficulty with the cities and their formation of the Salt Lake Valley Conference of Mayors," Overson said.
Commissioners have argued the conference is redundant since the mayors belong to the Council of Governments; on numerous occasions they've asked them to disband the group.
The mayors refuse, saying they need a forum to discuss their common concerns and priorities, which are different from the county's.
The divide in the two groups' interests surfaced more openly last summer when Commissioner Randy Horiuchi proposed that the county take over maintenance of some state roads.
Horiuchi said the county could do a better job keeping up the roads. But the Conference of Salt Lake Valley Mayors viewed the proposal as a play to nab road funds. The mayors voted unanimously to oppose the plan. The conference stated its opposition in a letter to the commission, calling instead for local control of the roads.
The mayors also have taken a stand contrary to the commission on light rail. Earlier this year the conference irked the commission with a study it authored on double taxation.
The mayors irritated commissioners even more with their support of incorporation drives in the county - an issue, according to Overson, that cities have absolutely no jurisdiction over.
"I don't think that's a fair and equal partnership," Overson said. "I feel COG is the forum to bring up those issues."
But West Valley City Mayor Gerald Wright said local mayors have different problems than the county and the conference has proved the finest forum yet for working collectively to solve them.
The steadfast support of Wright and other mayors for the association has led Overson in recent months to back off criticism of the group, Wright said. Now Overson's tactic appears to be trying to win cities over by becoming partners in as many projects as possible.
Dolan appreciates the county's "cooperative partnershipping mode" and its willingness to spend dollars to benefit city residents. "It really is what the role of the county is," he said.
But there's another motive behind the county's good works. Every dollar the county spends on a high-profile city project is one less dollar cities can cry double taxation over, Overson said.
The county's move to offset double taxation claims with new projects is just fine with most of the mayors.
"What we've passively agreed to do with the county is in their programming, where they could help us out, they'd do it and that would be in lieu of some of what we felt were double taxation problems in the past," Wright said.