Davis commission challenger focuses on county debt

Oct 25 2012 - 9:49am

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Steven J. Andersen
John Petroff Jr.
Steven J. Andersen
John Petroff Jr.

FARMINGTON -- Republican Davis County Commissioner John Petroff Jr. is proud of the county budgets he has approved during his first term in office.

The budgets since 2009 have been flat, with very little growth in revenues, Petroff said.

"Our budget (hovering between $92 million and $94 million annually) has basically been flat since I've been here," said the 66-year-old Petroff of West Point.

Petroff points with pride to the budget which shows the county being able to keep its debt low, while growing assets by $8 million over the last three years. But Democratic challenger Steven J. Andersen points to the same budget to demonstrate the county's "seismic shift" in spending, compared to previous years when it operated with a more conservative philosophy.

The county since 2009 has taken on $27 million in flood control obligation bond debt, and $22.5 million in total debt to build in downtown Farmington the new Davis County Administrative Offices ($15.6 million); Davis County Children's Justice Center ($1.8 million); and Main Branch library ($4.6 million.)

Andersen said the debt was taken on by the commission without taking the projects to voters.

"Davis County finances are being mishandled based on mortgaging-up the county taxpayers," said Andersen, a 48 year-old Farmington businessman. "This is a sea change from our fiscally conservative past."

Petroff defends the commission's actions.

"Spending money doesn't mean you're not conservative," Petroff said. "We're very careful with the way we spend money."

The new administrative office building, library and CJC are facilities the county needed, Petroff said. The capital improvement projects were paid for without a property tax increase, he said.

"If these projects are needed, bring the case to the voters and let them decide," Andersen said.

Petroff disagrees, saying that's why people elect leaders.

"I don't think every time we have to make a decision we have to go to the voters," Petroff said.

Andersen claims the county, with a total long-term debt of $81.8 million, or roughly $2 plus interest per person per year for the next 30 years, could do better.

A seismic retrofit to the old courthouse would have cost $5 million, Andersen said, versus building the new administration building.

And the commission's decision to build new still leaves the historic courthouse needing seismic work, Andersen said.

Petroff responded that the time is right to build due to low construction costs and low interest rates.

"We didn't feel like we would be leading if we passed up on an opportunity other commissioners tried to achieve," Petroff said.

"My capable opponent doesn't see the irony," Andersen said.

Instead, Petroff discusses low interest rates, low construction costs or potential damage for a reason to financially obligate the county for decades, he said.

"As a business owner and as a personal matter," Andersen continued, "I avoid debt. As a Fortune 500 business executive, success came by expecting excellence and learning to do more with less," Andersen said.

He has multiple business holdings in and out of state, including an Internet bank, a computer software company and both residential and commercial properties.

Davis County has less debt than other counties in Utah, Andersen concedes, and he recognizes the county does have a AAA credit rating.

"Does that mean we should get in more debt because we can?" Andersen asked.

Andersen has also been critical of the commissioner's annual six-figure salaries, saying he will do the job for free.

The county commissioners will receive a 2012 salary of $119,518, not including fringe benefits, according to county officials.

Petroff defends his salary, citing his willingness to be on call for the public around the clock.

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