Clerks say no to $300M UTOPIA ballot question

Monday , August 18, 2014 - 3:50 PM

Tim Gurrister

Four county clerk’s offices around the state are putting the brakes on the plans of six UTOPIA cities to place a $300 million investment deal on November’s general election ballot.

Box Elder County Clerk Marla Young said her office and her counterparts in Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties are putting a memo together on the question to send to the six cities advising them they against the move.

“The statutes are pretty clear,” she said. “On a non-binding opinion question, it has to be approved by the Legislature before it can go on the ballot.”

She said the issue is problematic since the Legislature is not in session. It is not clear if an interim legislative panel could handle the issue, raising the likliehood it would take a special session of the lawmakers.

The Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office late last week was circulating its opinion, saying. “After consulting with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office and our own legal counsel we have found that in this situation there is not any authorization to place the question on the ballot.

”As positive as it may be to gather input from citizens in this manner, our role is to follow the laws as they are written, and therefore we are unable to place a ballot question of this type on the ballot this November.”

Young said the Attorney General’s Office was also consulted and agreed with the assessment of the clerks offices. She said the Box Elder County Attorney’s Office is also onboard while the Brigham City Attorney’s Office is still researching the possibility.

City councils in Brigham, Perry, Tremonton, Layton, West Valley City and Midvale in June all voted to go forward with Australian investment giant Macquarie Capital’s $300 million build-out plan for the strugging fiber-optic network. The five other UTOPIA cities voted no -- Orem, Centerville, Murray Payson, and Lindon.

Controversial has been Macquarie’s demand that all residents of UTOPIA cities, whether subscribing to the UTOPIA Internet access service or not, be charged a up to a $20 monthly fee beginning in roughly three years upon Macquarie’s completion of the UTOPIA network, which has been stalled for years.

On Aug. 6 the mayors of the six cities still with Macquarie stood for a press conference in West Valley City to announce their plan to put the Macquarie deal on the ballot.

“I feel bad for these mayors,” Young said. “It’s such a controversial issue, and it’s such an emotional one for their citizens.”

Even though none of the six cities are in Utah County, Young said the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office is involved because fiber-optics has been a hot button issue in that county as well. “They’ve had a lot of inquiries.”

Provo bailed on its own fiber-optic network last year, selling it to Google, and Orem is among the five cities who rejected the Macquarie proposal in June.

Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister

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