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Big library decision likely will be made by just a few

SHARE Big library decision likely will be made by just a few

Salt Lake residents, listen up: Your city government wants to increase your taxes to the tune of $80 million to $85 million to build a new library.

The good news: You registered voters can decide whether you want that done.The bad news: Probably only around 10 percent of you actually will decide.

"And that might be a high estimate," said deputy city recorder Doc Kivett.

The City Council has decided to hold a special election for the bond on Aug. 4, when historically very few people show up to vote. At the height of summer, many residents will be on vacation, and special elections almost never get a high turnout anyway.

The council chose the Aug. 4 date over the Nov. 3 general election, when about 50 percent of registered voters will likely show up at polling booths.

The tactic has some critics grumbling. Especially since the bond's impact would be large. It would raise annual taxes on a $150,000 home by at least $38.

"Waiting for the general election would amount to less than 90 days," said Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi. "It makes sense to seek the broadest support possible for such a major expense, and you get your broadest consensus during a general election."

Council Chairman Bryce Jolley said the reason for a special election is to ensure that only voters who have an interest in the issue cast ballots.

"Oft-times, in a general election, there are some voters who are unclear about various issues and walk into the voting booth and say, `Oh, tax increase - nope, nope, nope,' " he said. "We want a more educated voting populace."

In other words, the assumption is voters educated on the issues will understand the benefits of the tax increase - and be more likely to vote for it.

"It's my experience that people are willing to pay taxes if they can see how the money is spent," said pollster Dan Jones. "Libraries are very high on people's priority lists."

Jones cautioned that it's difficult to tell how scheduling a special election will affect the vote before seeing what kind of opposition materializes, but right now, before any organized opposition has coalesced, "I would predict it would pass."

State Rep. Glenn Way, R-Spanish Fork, introduced a bill this year that would have limited bond elections basically to primary and general elections. It passed both the House and Senate easily, but Gov. Mike Leavitt vetoed it.

Last week the City Council initially voted to hold the bond election in conjunction with the general election but changed its mind after library director Nancy Tessman told members "our momentum is now."

"We've been talking about this for quite a long time, and we don't feel it's a surprise to the residents," she said later. "We want to give them a focused issue."

City officials and staffers have been discussing the bond for well over a year.

Part of the bond proceeds would be used to demolish the 3rd District Court buildings, which are now vacant since the completion of the new Scott M. Matheson Courthouse a block away.

The Metropolitan Hall of Justice, containing offices and the county jail, would also be demolished. Those functions will be moved once the new jail at 3300 South and 900 West is completed.

A plaza and underground parking terrace are slated for construction, as well as the new library itself to the north of the existing library.

The demolition and construction would be the first phase of a complete makeover of the block, which consultant architects to the city envision as a cultural magnet with library, museums, shops, apartments and offices. The city Planning Commission signed off on the plan last Thursday.

Jolley pointed out that even if the bond fails, the empty buildings would have to be dealt with somehow.

Horiuchi opposes the plan for the block, preferring park space instead. The county controls part of the land, though the city is negotiating to take ownership of the whole thing.