Cache citizens group calls for WCD re-vote, others disagree
By Jessica Warren
Anticipation as well as aprehension are felt on February 2, the day for the special election to decide whether Cache County will form a Water Conservancy District (WCD).
Water issues are currently handled by the Cache County Water Policy Advisory Board, among the supporters for a WCD. Advocates describe a Water Conservancy District as a "quasi-municipality, formed to carry out special functions…not restructed by city boundary lines…[with] a sustained funding source in order to achieve its responsibilities."
many have asked what the "sustained funding source" means. An additional property tax will be added, estimating approximately $4.40 per year on an average home. The maximum levy for Cache County is said to be .0002 percent of every dollar of taxable property before construction. On a $120,000 home, this tax would be $4.36. After a project is started, however, this can go up to $13.20, and if the district goes into debt, it can appeal to the state legislature for an even higher rate.
These are some of the concerns of Wise Water Planning and their associates. Gordon Steinhoff, a member of the faculty at USU in the Languages and Philosophy Department is worried that the ballot, which does not mention the tax involved is being used by the County to convince people to vote yes to creating a Cache WCD.
"It's cheerleading for the district," says Steinhoff.
The ballot language is taken from a public notice in the newspaper about a public hearing concerning the district. Steinhoff notes, however, that after all the district's virtues are listed, it stops, leaving out any mention of a tax. Steinhoff's concern is that when people who are unclear about the issue go in to vote, they won't be getting all the facts.
"There's a lot of uncertainty about the issue," said Steinhoff.
In talking with the State Attourney's office in Salt Lake City, Steinhoff confirmed that the language was biased and violated a Utah State law saying ballot language must be neutral. As suggested by the state, Steinhoff asked the County Attorney's office to recall the ballots, add one sentence about the tax, reprint and distribute the new ballots. He believes that this could be done fairly quickly. Suggested Monday morning, Steinhoff has heard nothing back as of Wednesday as to whether the County Attorney will comply.
Being accused of knit-picking by some supporters of the district, Steinhoff says,
"It's a matter of law. I know as a teacher if I ask a question in a certain way, I can lead a student to either get the answer, or miss it entirely. So when I'm writing a test, I'm aware of that." Steinhoff says he believes the people of the County are aware of it, too.
Another important issue with Wise Water Planning is "taxation without representation." The members of the district will be appointed by the County Council rather than elected in.
"We worry about special interest groups getting control of this board, and doing what does not benefit the tax payers who pay for their projects," said Steinhoff.
The approved rule for appointing members of a district are as follows: one Cache County Council member residing outsid Logan City; two City of Logan residents, one elected official, one not; on alternating North and South County elected municipal officials recommended by the Mayor's Council; one at large business person; one joint Bridgerland Audubon Society and League of Women Voters recommended board member; one large scale irrigator; one small scale irrigator; one Farm Organization recommendation; one recommended jointly by North Cache and Blacksmith Fork Soil Conservation Districts; and one at large member chosen by the Council from among citizens residing within the district boundaries who make their interest known. Special consideration will be given to a water scientist, hydrologist, regional economist, or other technical person.
Charlie Batten, a member of the North Cache and Blacksmith Fork Soil Conservation Districts points out that with the regulations on the board members, representation is clearly present. He also says that although the County Council has the same authority as a Water Conservancy District, they have neither the time nor the expertise.
Batten will note the advantages of the district at an open house held Wednesday night at the Logan City building. Initiating further studies and creating management plans are a great responsibility of a WCD. These plans can include water storage development, such as injection wells. Water is pumped into the ground during water surplus seasons, and pumped back out for usage during the dry season. Projects such as these have been done by other WCD, not just building dams.
A WCD would also serve as a water wholesaler to smaller municipalities. Also, a WCD would have a regular source of funding rather than rely on appropriations.
Batten is voting yes to a WCD because he is worried that without one, a special service district would come in later, and can tax up to .0008 percent. Also, he feels a WCD would have a better time bargaining with other WCDs about our water. The federal government will only deal with Water Conservancy Districts.
Steinhoff points out that when advocates say a WCD would protect our rights, Utah law already provides for water rights. A law passed about Bear River water, a possible water source for the dam at Barrens, and sold to Salt Lake County, already provides protection for the county.
"We've already been granted, by law, our fair share of Bear River water [about one-fourth for Cache County]. We don't need a WCD to protect our share of Bear River water," said Steinhoff.
Once unclaimed water is developed (by a municipal government or irrigation company) it is their water right by law. Steinhoff's argument against a WCD and a dam at Barrens is that once a district is formed, Cache County tax payers would pay for the project, and the water would be sold to Salt Lake County, leaving no benefits for the tax payers.
"We're afraid of what they want to build and what they want to spend. [Even with the low tax rate] that gives too much money to a group that we don't get to vote out if they start doing goofy stuff."