Lana Creer-Harris
October 28, 2010

The Payson City Council voted against assuming more risk in signing a service contract with the Utah Infrastructure Agency, an interlocal agency related to the fiber-optic network UTOPIA.

By a vote of three-two, the council voted down UTOPIA’s request to join other cities in bonding for $62 million dollars to be allocated in three draws. Councilmen Scott Phillips and Mike Hardy and Councilwoman Jolynn Ford voted no. Council members Brad Daley and Kim Hancock voted yes.

In May 2008, Payson was the only UTOPIA member city to reject an increase to the city’s sales tax pledge to back a new $185 million bond for UTOPIA. Earlier this year, the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, a 16-city consortium that makes up the government-owned fiber-optic system, formed the Utah Infrastructure Agency as a financing tool for the struggling network.

City manager Richard Nelson said residents with UTOPIA will still have it, but no new UTOPIA hookups will be made.

“We’re in debt up to our eyeballs, I don’t know how we can take on more,” Ford said.

“When is enough?” Mayor Rick Moore asked. He added that this was the fourth time UTOPIA had come to the city with a new request.

Todd Marriott, speaking for UTOPIA, begged the council to stay with them. After the vote he said, “UIA is going forward. Payson just missed a good opportunity. They said no to doubling their investment.”

Before the vote, during public comment, Marriott and one of UTOPIA’s engineers, Roger Zimmerman, gave presentations to the council on the speed and bandwidth capability of UTOPIA. They were countered by David Lee, a resident and systems design engineer, who said he didn’t believe UTOPIA could deliver on its promise with its existing fiber network.

Utah Taxpayers Association representative Royce Van Tassel acknowledged it was a difficult and complex issue, but he said that group’s main concern was taxpayers’ exposure to debt. The association opposes UTOPIA.

Even though Payson is a member city, Nelson said it doesn’t own any of the UTOPIA infrastructure. He said the city signed on for the bond cost, which it will be paying for more than 20 years.Nelson said Payson City still has 18 more years to pay $264,000 a year on the original UTOPIA deal.

Orem approved the UIA agreement on Tuesday.