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Return funds, Davis told

County says $450,000 was spent appropriately

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Davis County officials will meet Monday with state lawmakers to try to convince them the county shouldn't have to return $450,000 to the state for a conference center that hasn't been built.

Lawmakers say the county has misspent the money and should return it.

Last week the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee voted in favor of requiring county leaders to return $450,000 the state gave the county in 1998 to help build the Layton center, saying that money was meant for construction.

Davis County leaders say although construction has not yet begun on a conference center in Layton, they have used state grant money intended for construction of the center to purchase land and that it was used appropriately.

County Commissioner Dannie McConkie said he will meet with House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, and other legislators on Monday in an attempt to clarify the grant contract, although he says he's not sure that meeting will change anything.

"We believe absolutely we have acted with integrity in every way," he said. "(But) there has not been a good exchange of information. . . . Everybody seems to have a different recollection of what happened."

The county signed a contract with the state to receive a $500,000 grant for construction of the conference center, with the county receiving $450,000 of that grant in early 1999 with the remaining $50,000 being held until the center was built, Davis County Clerk/Auditor Steve Rawlings said Friday.

Rawlings said although the money wasn't spent on actual construction costs, the construction budget included costs for buying land, furniture and fixtures.

Since 1998, the county has spent about $4.1 million on land and another $600,000 on other costs related to the conference center project, Rawlings said. If Davis County is forced to relinquish the grant money, it will have to sell one to two of its 15 acres to get the money, he said.

But he doesn't see any reason the county should have to give the money back.

A separate legislative subcommittee threatened in February 2001 to take the money back but instead agreed to give county leaders another two years to get the project moving. The committee voted to wait until 2003 to reconsider the allocation, giving the county until Dec. 31, 2002, to begin construction on the center.

Rawlings said he is frustrated the Legislature is now reviewing the project a year earlier than planned.

"Personally I have to wonder . . . if budget cuts aren't the driving force here," Rawlings said. "We've fulfilled all obligations. . . . It seems they reacted in a very rapid fashion and have not reviewed everything."

The project has dealt with a number of setbacks since its inception, including losing three contractors.

The planned convention center would serve as the only large meeting place in the county. Leaders also say it would fill a needed niche along the Wasatch Front by providing another option to large convention centers in Salt Lake City and Ogden.

Rawlings was in Arizona on Friday with other county leaders, including Commissioner Carol Page, at a national conference on building conference centers. He said one of the things he had learned so far at the "If You Build It, They Will Come" conference is that conference centers usually take three to five years from their inception to be completed.

"We're right on track," he said.

E-mail: ehayes@desnews.com