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Davis told to repay $450,000

Reapply when ready to build, county is told

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Davis County leaders must repay a $450,000 state grant meant for construction of a conference center in Layton.

In a meeting Monday with state legislators, Davis officials failed to convince lawmakers they had spent the money properly and shouldn't have to return it.

The Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee earlier this month voted to require the county to return money the state gave the county in 1998 to help build the conference center, saying that money was meant for construction and instead had been spent to buy land.

Davis County officials met Monday with House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, and House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, in an attempt to clarify the grant contract and convince lawmakers the county had spent the money appropriately.

While the meeting was cordial, legislators essentially told county officials they still had to give the money back but could reapply for funds in the future.

"(The meeting) changed nothing. . . . It was kind of what we expected," Davis County Commissioner Dannie McConkie said. "They told us, 'When you're ready to build, come back and see us.' "

McConkie and county Clerk/Auditor Steve Rawlings both left the meeting with the impression that the contract would not have been scrutinized had this not been an extremely tight budget year.

"It's kind of Davis County's contribution to balancing the budget," McConkie said.

But Stephens said lawmakers' decision had nothing to do with finances. "We wouldn't have asked for it back if we didn't feel it was done improperly," Stephens said Tuesday.

Rawlings says he is not sure how the county will come up with the money.

Reselling some of the land for the conference center is one possibility, though county leaders will discuss other possibilities as well, he said. He said the county will repay the money by the end of the state fiscal year, which ends June 30.

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. Davis County has purchased about 15 acres of land for the center.

Lawmakers' decision will not kill the project, McConkie said.

"The grant return is not a deal breaker for the conference center," he said.

Being forced to repay $450,000 in state grant money is not the first setback for the project, which has lost several contractors since its inception about four years ago.

E-MAIL: ehayes@desnews.com