October 25, 2009

Here’s hoping the second time’s the charm.

In 2007, voters rejected by a mere 262 votes a proposed $192 million bond issue to replace Salt Lake City’s decrepit public safety headquarters and build a satellite station in Sugar House. That was unfortunate, but we understand why a bare majority of voters thought that package was extravagant.

City leaders learned that lesson. On Nov. 3, the capital city’s voters will have a chance to approve a scaled-back, $125 million plan. We urge its adoption, because the central fact in this issue has not changed. The existing 50-year-old Public Safety Building is worn out, too small and not worth the investment to make it safe and efficient. It likely would be damaged in a major earthquake to the point that the city’s emergency response would be compromised.

The thing that has changed since 2007 is the economy. Utah may be emerging from the Great Recession, but you wouldn’t know it by all the people who still are being laid off. Retail sales remain sluggish. The city could wait to take on this major capital project.

But it shouldn’t. Delaying the replacement of the public safety facilities is a risk the city should not take. Even if the bond issue is passed, it will take years to plan and build the new buildings, meaning that police officers, the fire command and dispatchers still will be working in dangerously substandard offices for some time.

Besides, interest rates are at historic lows, and construction costs are down. If Salt Lakers bite the bullet now and accept the estimated $75 property tax increase on a median home value of $261,000 necessary to service the bonds, they should get top value for their tax dollars. The estimated tax increase on a business property valued at $1 million would be $522.

What taxpayers would get is likely to be a pair of buildings, one serving administration and operations, the other an emergency command center that would house dispatchers and be hardened to meet Homeland Security standards.

Although a final decision on a location has not been made, the preferred site is on the east side of 300 East between 400 South and 500 South. A location on Library Square that caused controversy earlier this year has been eliminated.

The Sugar House precinct station for firefighters and police is no longer part of the package, though the need remains.

Mayor Ralph Becker and the City Council have pared this proposal to the basics. This time around, voters should support it.