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$5 million to Alliant overturned

Tax panel says the county acted inappropriately

Salt Lake County Assessor Lee Gardner will be dusting off his files, retrieving the paperwork and reviewing the appraisals now that a $5 million settlement to Alliant Techsystems has been overturned.

The Wednesday ruling by the Utah State Tax Commission puts the whole dispute back where it was in the fall, when the aerospace plant argued its property had been vastly overvalued.

Its argument ceased when the county's Board of Equalization, made up of the three members of the now-defunct Salt Lake County Commission, offered to hand over $5 million if Alliant went away with its $10 million claim.

Gardner, who had long argued the payment was inappropriate because it circumvented the process, felt vindicated on Thursday.

"The important thing is we maintain the integrity of the process, that what we do for Alliant or any other big company, small company or any individual is the same thing. We must treat them all in the same manner."

The Tax Commission's ruling handily rejected the $5 million payment to Alliant Techsystems, saying the payment essentially cut Granite School District out the loop as a beneficiary of the tax revenue.

Alliant, located in West Valley City, said it had suffered from economic "obsolescence" and therefore its property had been overvalued for five years.

It wanted a refund of $10 million, money that had already been paid into county coffers and the school district.

Last fall, the Board of Equalization began negotiating a settlement, arguing it would be too costly to litigate the overvaluation claim.

The board approved the $5 million settlement, over the objections of Gardner and Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocom.

Yocom said Thursday the ruling now allows the issue to be argued before an impartial commission that can hear the arguments from all sides.

The next step is for the contested tax years of 1997-99 to receive a full evidentiary hearing before the Utah State Tax Commission the week of April 23.

Gardner said the hearing, which would have played out the arguments from all interested parties, was circumvented by the settlement. "We're now back on track."

Granite School District Superintendent Stephen Ronnenkamp was pleased at the ruling.

"We think the Tax Commission made the right decision."

Alliant Tech officials were unavailable for comment.