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Re-vote coming on transit funds

After two days of scathing critiques from the Legislature, Salt Lake County officials said Thursday that they will vote in November on whether a sales tax hike that has been promised to transit should instead go to roads.

The vote would be the result of an audit this week that said county leaders used a "flawed" process that ranked transit ahead of roads when deciding where the tax money should go. Legislators suggested Wednesday that the county should take a second vote to account for a math error that skewed the rankings.

Lawmakers were also upset because they said county officials ignored a directive to consider funding for roads and instead supported transit. A loophole in the law allowed county leaders to push projects ahead of others that they felt needed to be funded, despite the ranking list.

"I would appreciate a vote," Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, said Thursday. "If they're going to basically say, 'It was our intent to ignore you all along,' I would like that done publicly."

If the vote is in favor of roads, it could jeopardize a $500 million agreement that the Utah Transit Authority has made with the federal government to help fund new TRAX lines and commuter rail to Provo. Construction of the rail lines also could be postponed.

But the county won't abandon transit, said West Valley City Mayor Dennis Nordfelt, who is chairman of the Salt Lake County Council of Governments.

"Whenever you bring a matter back up and it's reconsidered, there's always a chance it could change," Nordfelt said Thursday. "I don't believe it will."

Nordfelt said most county officials want to fund the transit lines. Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall is an exception. He supports funding TRAX but doesn't want to pay for commuter rail to Utah County — a top priority for lawmakers from that county.

"I don't feel that Salt Lake County residents should have to pay for Utah County residents' transportation before our needs are met," Wall said.

He said he will likely vote against giving the money to transit, the same choice he made last year when mayors promised the money to TRAX and commuter rail.

Voters approved the quarter-cent increase in sales tax last November and were told the money could fund transportation projects ranging from reconstruction of 9000 South in Sandy to construction of a TRAX line to Sandy.

Pollster Dan Jones said Thursday that exit polls showed most voters believed the tax increase would go to transit, and it did. Nearly three-quarters of the tax hike has been promised to fund commuter rail to Provo and TRAX lines to South Jordan and West Valley.

The rest of the money is scheduled to go toward reconstruction of I-80 and to help preserve land for the proposed Mountain View Corridor. Salt Lake County is in the middle of debating an agreement to give the money, which is already being collected, to UTA and the Utah Department of Transportation.

Killpack said he wants Salt Lake County leaders to be accountable for errors and their clear support of transit over roads. If the group votes to continue funding transit, he said, the Legislature would look into amending the law to possibly allow the rail projects to be mitigation for environmental effects of the Mountain View Corridor.

"We have a legislative session before us, and it's my hope we can come up with a solution before that session hits," he said.

Salt Lake County leaders are scheduled to meet for the re-vote on Thursday, Nov. 1. The vote will be taken by 17 mayors and members of the Salt Lake County Council.