November 4, 2009
Aaron Falk

As he waited inside the public safety building, watching for election results to come in, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker heard a number of jokes about the broken elevators and leaky roofs in the rundown cop shop.

“In a few years, (those jokes) can go away,” Becker said late Tuesday.

Two years after suffering a narrow defeat at the polls, a slimmed-down public-safety bond survived an economic downturn and concerns about where the complex might be built to earn a victory Tuesday for Becker and the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Voters approved the $125 million measure by about 2-to-1 (12,432 to 6,479). The bond will pay to replace the current public safety building, 315 E. 200 South, with a new police and fire headquarters and an emergency operations center downtown.

The bond’s passage means property owners will see a bump in their taxes. A home valued at $260,000 will see an increase of $6 a month, while a business valued at $1 million will see a bump of $43 a month.

“We know this is a really difficult time for a lot of people in our community,” Becker said. “The idea of having to increase taxes on yourselves for any reason … is a considerable sacrifice. People have obviously seen and understand the need to be able to house these fine folks who … protect folks in our community.”

In 2007, a $192 million public-safety bond failed by fewer than 300 votes. The bond, which would have paid for a new police headquarters along with a west-side fire training facility and an east-side police precinct, had a number of high-profile opponents, including then-Mayor Rocky Anderson.

This time around, a group of Salt Lakers expressed concerns about Becker’s top choice for the complex site, just east of Library Square on 300 East.

Becker said he would reopen the site selection process after the bond’s passage.

For voters who opposed the measure, many hoped that process is not a foregone conclusion.

“I’m hopeful that the city will really listen to Salt Lake residents when it comes time to picking a location,” said Jeff Bair, who opposes building the complex near the downtown library.

City leaders say they are still at least three years away from completing the project. Becker said he hopes to include state and county officials in the project.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Cory Lyman, the city’s emergency management director. “There were people who had problems with the site, but in my discussions I literally never heard someone suggest there wasn’t a need. The community has been overwhelmingly supportive.”

Salt Lake City Fire Chief Kurt Cook said the vote was a “benchmark” for the city.

“It really is an investment and you’ll see the return on your investment in the near future,” Cook said.