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Murray voters want smokestacks razed

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The voters spoke Tuesday, and they pronounced a sentence of death on Murray's downtown smokestacks.

Murray residents voted 4-1 to reject a proposed $3.4 million general obligation bond that would have funded the seismic reinforcement and preservation of one of the Salt Lake Valley's most prominent landmarks.That overwhelming defeat dooms the historic chimneys, leaving them in the possession of private companies that are expected to demolish the stacks soon to make way for a massive downtown redevelopment project.

The fate of the smokestacks was decided in convincing fashion as about 22 percent of Murray's 21,972 registered voters turned out for the special election and crushed the proposed bond by a 2,595-vote margin.

Financing a general obligation bond of up to $3.4 million over 20 years would have cost Murray voters $17 a year in additional property tax for every $100,000 of assessed valuation on their houses.

With all 35 of the city's voting precincts and absentee ballots counted, the final tally was 3,526 votes against the bond and 931 votes in favor.

The City Council had scheduled a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to canvass the vote and consider a motion to take possession of the smokestacks and begin renovation work.

However, the motion is now moot given the thrashing the bond proposition received. All three councilmen who voted to place the bond on the ballot indicated they wanted to place the fate of the chimneys in voters' hands.

Two other council members, Chairman Leon Robertson and Wendell Coombs, opposed smokestack preservation in the first place and voted against placing the proposition on the ballot.

But the council, which is supposed to notify the Environmental Protection Agency about its decision on preservation by Thursday, may choose to adopt an official city position on the chimneys for the EPA's benefit.

The resounding "no" vote did not surprise Mayor Dan Snarr, who has remained publicly neutral about the smokestacks.

"Based on comments of many people who have called me over the past several weeks, the ratio appeared to be about 4-to-1 against issuing the bonds," Snarr said. "I'm proud that our citizens turned out in force to vote . . . and I think the people have spoken."

Chad Bennion, the city's new economic development director, was the only one of about a dozen people in the council chambers Tuesday night to watch the vote come in who would admit he hates to see the stacks demolished.

"I would've liked to see them stay," he said. "It's hard because these are the last stacks to go" among the many smelter chimneys that used to dot the valley floor.

"But the reality is that with the unknown cost variables and the tight timeline the city has to clean up and redevelop the smelter site." Bennion added, "We didn't have time to identify what resources could be used to save them."

But Betty Randazzo, who has lived in Murray for 48 years, had no room for sentimentality and cheered loudly as each succeeding vote update indicated the proposition was being defeated.

"I don't have the money to pay that extra tax and all that goes with it," she said. "That $17 a year was just the beginning - the beginning of the end."

Bruce Smith, who has lived in Murray most of his 69 years, recalled his great-grandfather had sold the smelter site to private buyers many years ago.

But he also publicly opposed keeping the stacks.

"We had informal spot polls where the results were anywhere from 4-to-1 to 8-to-1 against keeping them," Smith said. "Our biggest concern was a low voter turn-out . . . but this issue has been hot enough it has been drawing out people who are otherwise lethargic.

"I think we can preserve our history in Murray without taking on the kind of liability" the city would incur from accepting ownership of and financial responsibility for the chimneys, he added.