Why the Utah Inland Port Authority postponed a break on a $ 150 million bond
The Utah Inland Port Authority postponed the vote on a proposed $ 150 million bond for a public infrastructure district on Monday after leaders and protesters in Salt Lake City questioned the plan and its timeline.
The port authority was due to vote on the plan on Monday afternoon, but Jack Hedge, the executive director of the Utah Inland Port Authority, canceled it just before the meeting began.
“For the moment, as executive director, I have chosen to delay the vote in an attempt to reduce this discussion (public infrastructure district) to arguments of merit, and not to further fuel the political fires”, a Hedge said in a statement.
The decision to postpone the vote came as a group of about two dozen protesters lined up outside the Authority’s Headquarters, located in Main Building 111 in downtown Salt Lake City. Protesters, holding up signs reading “Repeal the port” and “SLC taxpayers don’t want to pay for a polluting port,” applauded Deeda Seed, an organizer of the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition, informing them that the meeting was canceled.
“The fight is not over but I think of all of you, thank you for coming, you made a difference,” she told the crowd around her.
The Utah Inland Port Authority plan itself, which was first revealed on September 8, calls for bonds to fund large public infrastructure projects. Hedge explained at the meeting that they would seek to “fill in the existing gaps” in Utah’s import and export logistics system. This includes railway upgrades, a transshipment facility and an alternative energy refueling station.
But the logistics of the plan raised questions from city leaders. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Council President Amy Fowler co-signed a letter, dated Thursday, addressed to Hedge and Jill Flygare, the port authority’s chief operating officer, asking them to delay Monday’s vote until their questions can be answered. .
“We have serious concerns about the speed and lack of detailed information with which the UIPA board is being asked to approve the creation of a public infrastructure district and the issuance of debt. up to $ 150 million, to be repaid through tax increases that would generally be controlled and appropriated by elected officials in Salt Lake City as property tax revenues, ”the letter said.
Mendenhall and Fowler pointed out that the interest rate on the debt could reach 8.5%, meaning it would cost taxpayers $ 255 million over a 35-year term of the loan. They said the rate is more than three times the interest rate Salt Lake City received when issuing municipal bonds.
“Without a definite list of projects that will be funded by PID, (Salt Lake City) wonders if it will ultimately be necessary to own and maintain this infrastructure,” they added.
In a statement released on Monday, Mendenhall said she was delighted the port authority had agreed to delay the vote.
“We appreciate having more time to understand the implications of this proposal and look forward to more questions being answered in the days and weeks to come,” she said.
Seed attributes the delay to a mixture of “public outrage” and the Salt Lake letter. She said she was pleasantly surprised by the delay, adding that this was the first time the port authority had “responded” to concerns about their plans.
Throughout the 25-minute protest, members of the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition spoke out against the future of the state’s inner port. They claimed it is too expensive and will only worsen the state’s air quality, which is already a concern.
“There are some very legitimate questions that weren’t answered at all about this, and it’s good that they answered and defer the vote,” Seed said. “While they can vote at any time, what we want to see is a full explanation of how they intend to use this money, and the public did not have this information, not more than the city for that matter. It has to happen. They have to be more transparent about what they intend to do. “
Meanwhile, in addition to postponing a vote on the bond, Hedge and Flygare wrote a response to leaders in Salt Lake on Monday. In it, they explained that the plan “fits well within” the law and that some of the proposed projects are in fact not planned for Salt Lake City. For example, it is proposed that the alternative fueling facility be located in West Valley City.
They also clarified that the current law allows the port authority to issue public infrastructure districts as can municipalities. In both cases, the owner’s consent is required.
“In order to impose a PID property tax, the consent of the owner taxpayer is also required,” they wrote, adding that the public infrastructure districts of the port authority are different as they are a “separate government entity with its own board of directors “once created.
While they did not rebut the demand for the 8.5% interest rate, they also argued that current interest rates are the lowest they have been in more than three decades. That’s why they wanted to speed up the timing of the link.
“Neither SLC nor anyone can guarantee that interest rates will stay low if funding is delayed,” wrote Hedge and Flygare. “The proposed resolutions do not require the issuance of bonds by the UIPA, but launch a timetable for the potential issuance of bonds as rates remain at historically low levels.”
The port authority did not provide a new date for the bond vote.
Seed said she would welcome any efforts by the agency to be more transparent about projects, including the proposed bond. She said the port authority had operated “behind closed doors” since its inception in 2018.
“When we ask for information, we don’t get it,” she said. “We want information so that a human health risk assessment can be done, you know, to help us understand the health impacts.… I’ve been in public policy for about 30 years, this is the worst. example I’ve ever seen of public policy making. It’s terrible, frankly. “
She hopes Monday’s postponed vote will be a turning point in her concerns with the agency.