public-safety-bond-press-event-photos2September 9, 2009
Derek Jensen

As a mantra, the Utah Taxpayers Association’s “n-o” suddenly seems negotiable.

It was strange-bedfellows time Wednesday as association President Howard Stephenson stood shoulder to shoulder with Mayor Ralph Becker in the shadow of the decaying public safety building to announce official support for Salt Lake City’s $125 million bond for a new police headquarters.

“I don’t remember the last time we have supported a bond in Salt Lake City,” said Stephenson, a conservative state senator from Draper. “So, despite global warming, hell has frozen over.”

What’s more, Stephenson said he will push state lawmakers to lobby on behalf of the bond, which city residents will see on the Nov. 3 ballot.

“It makes sense for the Legislature to step up,” the senator said. “It would be a missed opportunity if the Legislature let that go.”

Known as Proposition 1, the bond proposal has been pared by $67 million from a $192 million public-safety bond that voters narrowly rejected in 2007. If passed, the new bond would fund a five-story police-fire headquarters and a three-story emergency operations center just east of downtown’s Library Square.

Given the water leaks, earthquake danger and “alarming” problems plaguing the 50-year-old headquarters at 315 E. 200 South, Stephenson said the resulting low morale makes it difficult for police to operate.

“We have toured the facility and found that it is really an embarrassment to the community,” he said. “It’s time for a new building.”

If approved, Prop 1 would cost the owner of an average $260,000 home $75 more a year in property taxes. But Stephenson argues a new energy-efficient police complex, upgrading the existing money pit, ultimately could save taxpayer dollars.

Wednesday’s endorsement from the business-backed association eliminates the most likely organized opposition to the bond.

In spring, the city shelled out $75,000 to Exoro Group for a public-relations campaign to “educate” voters about Prop 1. A survey, taken last month and arranged by Exoro, showed 69 percent of city voters back the bond.

And now, unlike 2007, the police bond has the support of the state’s most vocal tax watchdog.

“This is significant,” said Police Chief Chris Burbank, who hopes having the heft of the Legislature will make a difference at the polls. “We are responsible for a lot of the state’s infrastructure here.”

Becker noted the state may be willing to share the cost of the emergency-operations center — to the tune of about $30 million — so each agency could share the new facility. That decision, which will be made during the 2010 legislative session, is now being reviewed by the state’s building board.

The mayor says the city plans to build both buildings regardless of state support, but said the cost to residents would be cut if the financial burden is shared. The Utah Taxpayers Association, he notes, is the latest power broker to endorse the bond. That list includes the Downtown Alliance, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.

“I know this is not an easy thing,” Becker smiled, just inches from the bulldog logo lining a taxpayers association placard. “It reflects the critical need.”