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Widow, family feel cheated by S.L. County

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Years of frustration with Salt Lake County government stemming back to 1963 are finally coming to an end for 82-year-old Marva Rasmussen and her family.

But it's not the happy ending she had hoped for.Her struggles have centered on land surrounding her family home - property she maintained for 34 years, then learned it didn't belong to her.

"We have been treated unfairly by the county all the way through this," said Arlene Taylor, Rasmussen's daughter and family spokeswoman.

"First of all they gave us far less than what the property was worth," she said. "Then they built roads that turned our home into a traffic island. Then they told us that property that everyone thought belonged to us really belonged to them.

"Then they denied us the right to buy the land, sold it to a developer and refused to refund us the taxes we paid on the property for more than 30 years."

In 1963, Salt Lake County acquired property surrounding the Rasmussen family home in Holladay for the construction of the Van Winkle Expressway. A Wiles Service Station now stands where the home once stood on the south side of the Highland Drive and Van Winkle intersection.

On the north side of the intersection stood the Rasmussens' barn on a 95-foot by 25-foot plot of land that both the Rasmussens and the county believed belonged to the family.

When a development corporation sought to acquire the property from the Rasmussens in 1995, they learned that the property actually belonged to the county. Despite the fact that the Rasmussens had maintained the property and paid taxes on it for 34 years, the county claimed it and denied the Rasmussens the right to buy it.

The county sold it to a development firm and refunded the taxes the family had paid for only the past five years - about $40.

County commissioners will decided if the Rasmussens are entitled to any more of a refund Wednesday.

The American Housing Development Corp. originally offered the Rasmussens $20,000 for the property. When they learned that the property actually belonged to the county they worked out a deal with the county for an undisclosed sum and gave the Rasmussens $5,000 not to dispute the transaction in court.

Taylor believes that her family has a legitimate claim to the property because they maintained it and paid taxes on it while the county made absolutely no use of it. But she acknowledges that trying to establish ownership of the property or the first rights to it are now a lost cause.

"We've been told to take the money and run," she said. "Corporations have money, and you're never going to beat the government in court. Lawyers will tell you never to go to court simply on a matter of principle, but it's frustrating."

Now the Rasmussen family simply wants a refund of the property taxes they have paid over the past 34 years, with interest - a total of about $3,000.

"I've never worked so hard for $3,000 in my life," said Taylor.

Commissioner Brent Overson expressed sympathy for the Rasmussens during a County Commission meeting Monday.

"These people thought that they owned the property," he said. "We sold it and made a good chunk of change on it while they paid the property taxes on it all these years."

But there are no guarantees that the commissioners will rule in the Rasmussens' favor Wednesday. According to county policy, tax refunds can go back no longer than five years.

One way or the other, Taylor and her family look forward to putting the the frustration behind them.

"If we lose this one I guess we're whipped," she said. "It's a shame it has to end this way. My mother, an 82-year-old widow, has been in the hospital and this whole thing has been really hard on her, but what can you do?

"I'm afraid there's just no way for people in our position to take on government and win no matter how unfairly we've been treated."