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Chamber calls for another look at proposed public-safety bond

Salt Lake City business leaders are calling for financial scrutiny of a proposed $192 million public safety bond, saying costs and needs for police and fire facilities need more explanation.

The Salt Lake Chamber's board of governors stopped short of opposing the bond in a recent statement, instead requesting that they be involved in financial analysis and needs assessment to keep costs under control.

"We believe that support for the bond, which city residents will vote on this November, should be based on the highest standards of public finance," the statement reads. "The public needs a better explanation of the costs and benefits, needs assessment and programming review, and financing information."

The Salt Lake Chamber's vow not to oppose the public safety bond, which will appear on ballots as Proposition 1, comes with three stipulations:

• The chamber wants members of its board of governors to serve on the advisory committee to the project.

• It wants Salt Lake City to conduct an independent review of the cost and needs assessment for the new facilities, with the goal of refining the scope of the project and reducing costs.

• It wants to trim the $192 million price tag.

"Based on the information that has been shared with the chamber, we believe that further analysis and best business practices may reduce the total amount needed by as much as 10 to 20 percent," according to the statement.

Salt Lake City fire Capt. Scott Winkler said the city is complying with the chamber's requests.

"Our books are open for the chamber," Winkler said Monday. "We look forward to being partners with them on this."

If Proposition 1 passes Nov. 6, the $192 million bond would cover the cost of five public-safety structures at three locations. A new public-safety building, an emergency operations center and a combined parking/evidence storage structure would be grouped as a downtown public-safety campus. The bond also would pay for a new west-side fire station and training center in Glendale and a combined east-side police/fire public-safety facility in Sugar House.

Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie said all of those facilities are needed, and the chamber believes "a bond" is necessary.

"We are not in opposition to the bond," Beattie said, "but we're hoping to reduce what we hope would be substantial portion of that bond."

The problem, according to the chamber's statement, is the public has "precious little discernible information about the need, costs, benefits, financing mechanisms and alternatives."

"Our biggest concern is we had not received the information to do the (cost) analysis that makes us feel comfortable," Beattie said, adding that some of that information is being provided now.

City officials say the bond would increase property taxes for Salt Lake City residents by $114 per year on a $200,000 home. Commercial property owners, however, would face a 7 percent increase of their overall property tax burden and a 30 percent increase on the city portion of the property tax bill, according to the chamber.

"These are significant increases," the statement reads, "and from a business perspective, we want to ensure that the bond will not hamper Salt Lake City's economic competitiveness. The magnitude of increase also calls for an even higher standard of public accountability, information and due diligence."

In a Deseret Morning News poll in September, 52 percent of Salt Lake City registered voters said they would vote for the public- safety bond. The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, indicated that 39 percent said they would vote it down, with 10 percent undecided. The poll had a 4.4 percent margin of error.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com