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Local governments find themselves on both sides of the budget crunch

Local governments find themselves on both sides of the budget crunch

By Steve Fidel | Posted - Oct. 15, 2011 at 1:00 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The managers of Salt Lake County-owned facilities calculate they have maintenance needs totaling $47 million — an amount that could grow to $102 million over the next five years.

That list keeps getting longer in a down economy, prompting the county on Tuesday to start chewing through a prioritized list of projects that, if all undertaken today to get the county on top of maintenance needs for the next five years, would cost a whopping $206 million. That total does not include any new projects.

The economy has a number of municipal services providers along the Wasatch Front are also juggling a growing list of unfunded or underfunded projects, though not all of the economic news is bad.

Davis County took advantage of low interest rates on bonds for a new children's justice center, library and administrative building now under construction on the county government campus in Farmington.

In Provo, a slump in the construction of an 1,100-unit residential development in the city's northwest quadrant has taken some pressure off the city, which will need to spend several million dollars extending its water and sewer infrastructure throughout the development.

In West Jordan, the city's juggling process includes using staff, not contractors, for some work.

"We are doing all of our own roadway crack-sealing in house because it is less expensive for us to do the work in house, and we get a higher quality of end product with city staff," said Public Works Director Wendell Rigby.

West Jordan is also using its one asphalt crew to do smaller roadway overlay projects. "We can complete at least 50 percent more roadway resurfacing for the same amount of money than if we contracted out these smaller projects."

Planning helped Davis County use its bond to think ahead, said County Commissioner P. Bret Millburn. The county used a little over $6 million it had socked away in a capital improvement fund to pay cash for a new health department building in Clearfield recently. The county is putting $3 million from that fund toward the upgrades at the county complex in Farmington, financing the rest with $19.6 million in bonds it secured with an interest rate of just 3 percent.

"We can complete at least 50 percent more roadway resurfacing for the same amount of money than if we contracted out these smaller projects."

"The cash allowed us to move forward with the other projects and take advantage of the low bond rates," Millburn said.

Provo hasn't bonded for a public works project since the 1970s, Bingham said, but it might soon — not out of desperation, but also to take advantage of rock-bottom interest rates. He said the city's water system needs an additional 10 million gallon distribution reservoir, "a project I just can fund with cash on hand. It's a $6 million to $7 million project."

He said Provo's water rates are half what Utah County residents outside of Provo pay. "That gives us a lot of room to raise additional revenues by increasing those rates, but I think we're going to be pretty careful in doing that because people don't have a lot of extra money to pay increased utility costs."

Salt Lake County's backlog is compounded by the sheer size of the county and a number of unique services it provides — like a portfolio of performance halls, where the "A" list for maintenance includes $676,000 for work at the Capital Theater and Abravanel Hall. And at county-owned public swimming pools, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance work and repairs adds another $1.6 million to the "A" list.

Salt Lake City, as the oldest city in the state, has a growing list of maintenance needs much like Salt Lake County, and is spending more time setting priorities, said LuAnn Clark, director of Housing and Neighborhood Development.

"When revenues go down, you think maybe you can postpone paving that street and do it next year," she said. "But then you have to pick up and add that to next year's projects, which puts us continually behind."

In the meantime, the toll that winter weather takes on city streets makes it unlikely residents will immediately think of the money the city is saving when their car tire takes a dive into a pot hole.

"Those kinds of things add up," Clark said.


Steve Fidel


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