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Rocky Anderson vs. Ralph Becker

No Props: Rocky just can’t bring himself to like Becker’s public-safety building bond.

By Jesse Fruhwirth
Posted // October 28,2009 -

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is banking on residents to approve Proposition 1, a $125 million bond on the Nov. 3 ballot to replace what is now a dilapidated police administration building with a shiny new one that includes an emergency-preparedness center.

But former Mayor Rocky Anderson is showing up as a prominent critic, just as he did in 2007 when he objected to a similar initiative only days before the election. “If you would have called me a year ago, I would have said the same thing,” Anderson says.

Anderson says he’s been vocal in his opposition to the current proposed location for the public-safety building: across the street from Library Square. Government buildings are dead and dreary at night, he says, and that corner would better be used for condos, restaurants, boutiques and other things that bring life to downtown.

But more importantly, Anderson says, if Proposition 1 passes, many large beneficiaries of public safety won’t have to pay for their share. The average homeowner, for example, will pay about $75 in taxes per year toward the bond while the average business owner will pay $522 per year.

But what will nonprofits, hospitals and churches pay? Zero.

“I think it’s fundamentally unfair that only some property owners end up carrying the burden for fire protection and policing for all property,” Anderson told City Weekly. And the only way to have such costs born more evenly is by creating a special-service district, Anderson says.

Special-service districts can charge fees for services to entities that are otherwise tax exempt. Several special-service fire districts exist, but special-service police districts are more novel.

In 2007, while still mayor, Anderson kept his opposition under wraps to a then- $192 million bond that would have funded the same public-safety buildings the city now wants to build. That bond, crafted during his administration, also did not call for a special-service district. Anderson says that’s because the Salt Lake City Council at the time never would have approved a special-service district. Anderson’s opposition to the 2007 bond, he says, was the same as it is now, but it was misunderstood or ignored by news media, he claims. Instead, his opposition was characterized as pure sticker shock.

“I’ve been speaking out on this issue for about 10 years, and it’s amazing to me how the mainstream media has consistently ignored this issue,” he says. He says he first proposed a special-service district to better share police and fire costs in his first state of the city address in 2000. Why would the media ignore or distort his views? “Probably because of all the LDS Churchowned property in the city,” he says.

Mayor Ralph Becker’s spokeswoman, Helen Langan, says the city considered creating a special-service district to fund the new buildings, “but in the final analysis, it doesn’t appear possible legally.” The law allows for districts to provide “extended police service,” like across city lines, so the Salt Lake City Police Department—which serves only one city—may not qualify. The city can’t create a special-service district only to fund the bond because “the building of the [facility] is not a ‘service’ unto itself,” reads a city legal opinion Langan released.

Large public works buildings have been funded by special-service districts, however. The so-called “burn plant,” or waste incinerator in Davis County, for example, was built in the 1980s on a $54 million bond. That debt was paid through service fees levied by a newly created specialservice district. Nathan Rich, executive director of Wasatch Integrated Waste Management, which now operates the facility, says churches, hospitals and nonprofits pay waste disposal fees just like residents and businesses do.

Other former Salt Lake City mayors are in favor of the bond. Deedee Corradini says she’s “totally in favor” of Proposition 1, primarily because the current public safety building is in such poor shape, leaving the city unprepared for a major disaster. “Public safety can not wait any longer,” she says.

Former Mayor Palmer DePaulis said the police administration has been in the current building since he was in office and that location was only meant as a short-term solution. He said public buildings, retail and housing can mix happily in a vibrant downtown and doesn’t worry about the proposed building being located so close to the library. Ted Wilson, also a former mayor, could not be reached for comment.

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Posted // October 29,2009 at 09:10

I think that everyone agrees that something needs to be done to update our currant facilites(even Rocky doesn't dispute that) However, the city doesn't have the best track record of building the most beautiful of structures and they often do it in places that kill economic growth or that just don't make a whole lot of sense. --like the new building that is taking up the block that once housed one of the city's mainstays for nightlife.

Rocky has a great point, one that we should all be aware of. Yea he has bad timing and VERY course style but I have found that if you look past HOW he is saying it to WHAT he is saying he is often correct.

Becker is a breath of fresh air when it comes to a lot of things, I just think we are all tired of what has gone on before in some other projects in the city(lack of forethought, planning attention to night life, attention to asthetics etc)

Bottom line: I agree with both. I will most likely vote yes, but again am left with the choice of the better of two evils which kind of sucks.


Posted // October 29,2009 at 08:57

My husband, Ted Wilson, returned Jesse Fruhwirth's call last Friday. Perhaps deadline considerations crashed down on the reporter, but Ted never got a call back.

Ted supports the new public safety building. He and I voted in favor of the bond last week on our mail-in ballots.


Posted // October 29,2009 at 17:42 - Somehow I didn't receive the message. I apologize for any mix-up.


Posted // October 28,2009 at 18:17

Tired of Ross. Put a fork in him, he's done.

Keep aiming high, Mayor Becker!


Posted // October 28,2009 at 13:58

Didn’t Rocky once support a new Public Safety Building because it was in the city’s best interest? Just to throw it and public safety under the bus at the last minute due to his hatred for the “Church” and now it seems other nonprofit organizations. Rocky needs to look at the big picture, non-profits and the “Church” provide a lot of support for our city and its residences at no cost. Rocky does not seem understand that this is not about taking a stand against religion and its tax status. It’s about living in a safe city where those charged with our protection can do their jobs before and after the “Big One”. It’s time for Rocky to get off his soapbox and support our city’s public safety like our current mayor and the ones that came before him.


Posted // October 28,2009 at 13:01

Funny he couldn't get this done when he was there. Nobody listens to Rocky anymore. I fully support a new public safety building and agree with Mayor Becker.