Saturday, October 20, 2007

Salt Lake Tribune Recommends A "Yes" Vote On The $192 Million Proposition 1 For Five New Public Safety Buildings

In an editorial published on October 20th, 2007, the Salt Lake Tribune recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition 1, a general obligation bond for five new emergency services facilities collectively valued at $192 million. If passed, it will increase annual property taxes on a $297,000 home by $175. City officials hasten to add that the $192 million represents a "ceiling" rather than a "floor" figure, and will spend less if at all possible. I also refer to a September 23rd story published in the Deseret Morning News for more background information (current headquarters building pictured above left).

So what will Salt Lakers be getting in exchange for their "Yes" vote?

(1). A new 126,000 square foot headquarters building to house police and fire administrations, the fire marshal and code-enforcement staff, police detectives and the city's homeland security unit. Cost: $74 million.

(2). A new 150,000 square foot facility to encompass both parking and climate-controlled evidence storage. Cost: $38 million.

(3). A new 50,000 square foot emergency operations center. Cost: $26 million.

(4). A new 42,000 square foot combined police/fire station in Sugar House to be constructed at the southeast corner of Fairmont Park. This would replace the existing fire station No. 3 at 1085 E. Simpson Ave. Cost: $31 million.

(3). A new 45,000-square-foot Glendale fire station and training center to be constructed at the existing location of station No. 14 at 1560 S. Industrial Road. Among the primary deficiencies of the existing structure is an inability to house a ladder truck. Cost: $23 million.

And what's the primary justification for this bond? The existing headquarters building, of 1958 vintage, is old, antiquated, and not up to current earthquake codes. Six hundred employees are crammed into a building originally designed for 275. A big earthquake could level this building. Back in the spring of 2006, the Deseret Morning News published a series of stories on the potential outcome of a 7.0 earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley; the primary story, along with media links to the other stories, was archived on the Alaska Pride blog.

However, even ordinary weather events have hindered the headquarters building's functionality; as recently as October 18th, KTVX Channel 4 reported that a short circuit caused by a leaky roof shut down 911 services in Salt Lake City for about two hours. All calls had to go through the Valley Emergency Communication Center (VECC) and relayed by cell phone to Salt Lake dispatchers, who had to write down the emergency before communicating with their officers and fire fighters out in the field by two-way radio. And this was just an ordinary rain event that triggered the problem.

The $192 million price tag is scaring some people. Some critics argue that the city could avoid paying $26 million for an emergency operations center by throwing in with Salt Lake County. However, the county's EOC is located outside the city, and the Salt Lake Tribune cites the county's "abysmal track record with its Valley Emergency Communications Center" as a problem.

Others, including the Salt Lake Tribune, have asked if the price of these projects could be reduced by building them in phases. The answer is yes, but the savings also could be eaten up by construction inflation. Delay might impose a higher total cost in the long run.

And one early poll shows that, despite the fact that public safety is considered a necessity, this bond is a long way from being a slam dunk. On September 23rd, the Deseret Morning News reported that, according to a Deseret News/KSL poll taken by Dan Jones & Associates from September 3-6, only 52 percent of voters would vote in favor of the bond, while 39 percent were opposed and 10 percent undecided. The survey of 500 registered voters in the city has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

The Utah Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit group that represents taxpayers and promotes fair and equitable taxation, still has not taken a position on the proposed bond. However, their rather clunky and inefficiently-organized website makes it difficult to track down specific documentation (maybe they should hire one of those newly-laid off Novell technicians from Provo to scrub down their website). They did publish a paper that showed that, in 2005, Utahns had the seventh highest combined tax burden in the nation, but acknowledge that subsequent tax cuts may have reduced the burden.

Commentary: One question that should be asked is why these projects were allowed to build up to critical mass and then suddenly sprung upon the public en masse. Specifically, if the situation with the headquarters building is so degraded, why wasn't it identified and presented as a separate stand-alone bond issue years ago? Was Rocky Anderson asleep at the switch? Was he too busy attending anti-war rallies? A bond of this size can generate enough "sticker shock" to trigger rejection.

If this bond is rejected, it will be because they asked for too much at one setting. However, I think it will pass, but by a narrow margin. Salt Lake has become a more diverse city, and with the purported "benefits" of diversity comes the baggage in terms of more gangbanging and related crime. You cannot buy premium public safety at bargain-basement prices. Consequently, Voice Of Deseret joins with the Salt Lake Tribune to urge passage of this bond. Pay this now, or pay even more later.

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