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Should UTA Issues Kill The Mountain Accord? Maybe Dave Ure is on to something.

Summit County Council Member David Ure raised concerns during a recent County Council meeting regarding an audit of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and how that relates to supporting the Mountain Accord. The Mountain Accord is a massive project that hopes to redefine how our mountains are accessed, and includes partners such as UTA, local governments, Ski Utah, and the US Forest Service.

Essentially the issue is that Utah has mountains, lots of people that want to use them, and that is causing problems. The Mountain Accord is the latest in a long line of attempts to “make long-term decisions regarding the future of the central Wasatch Mountains.” That sounds really broad — and is. What it really boils down to is figuring out a way for people to access ski resorts, hiking, biking, etc. more efficiently. Intertwined with that are water issues, pollution, and a myriad of other issues related to our natural resources.

This brings us back to David Ure, who is one of the most interesting members of the Summit County Council. Ure was previously a Utah state legislator and is the council member that represents the views of eastern Summit County. He is a Cattle farmer from Kamas and thinks like one. That’s not a derogatory statement in the least. In fact, it’s a glowing compliment. He doesn’t seem to get wrapped up in politics; he just calls it as he sees it and in this case he has done us all a favor.

Most of us probably hadn’t paid attention to a recent audit of UTA — but maybe we should have. UTA are the folks that handle transportation in Utah. They run busses, light rail, and a train that runs along the Wasatch Front. Many Utahns depend on UTA every day. However, the recent audit does not paint them in very favorable light. The August 2014 audit highlights:

  • They pay their executives much more than you’d expect
  • They don’t report all their data to a state transparency website
  • Rail upkeep costs are significant and underfunded
  • They may need to cut service in order to meet financial constraints
  • Future transit projects depend on new funding sources

Wow.  So basically if you were researching which charity to give to, you would avoid this one.  Too many administrative expenses,  not transparent, doesn’t budget correctly, underfunds major upcoming expenses, and a needs to cut services.  Using a phrase I could envision Ure saying, “We are hitching our wagon to a broken down pony.” You see, if cars are banned from little Cottonwood Canyon, who do you think is going to run that bus service?  If light rail runs up Parley’s Canyon to Park City, who is going to run that train?  If we are going to connect all the resorts, who is going to do that?  UTA.

If we look back to the 2012 audit, it is just as bad:

  • Paying interest on debt will consume a great portion of is future sales tax revenue
  • Revenue projections are optimistic and expense projections may be understated
  • Financial limitations may affect future service levels
  • Cost-effectiveness has decreased

So, it’s obviously not a new problem.

Yet, the Mountain Accord proceeds down the path with this partner — a partner that seems fundamentally flawed.  If there is an outcome, it is likely to be heavily dependent on UTA.  With that comes a highly inefficient organization that puts itself over the needs of Summit County.  Will it be able to meet its obligations?  Are their current suggestions based on trying to find a way to pay for past obligations and not what is best for us? Given financial constraints, will a solution for solving our problem (traffic on 224 and 248) be addressed at all?  How much more will it cost taxpayers than it should, due to excessive salaries?

The problem with fighting Mountain Accord is that someone has been very smart in assembling this endeavor.  They enlisted local politicians, businesses, and organizations from the get go. Imagine that you are a local politician that has been meeting for months and spent countless hours on this issue.  In addition you have convinced your city or county to spend thousands of dollars in support of the initiative.   You aren’t going to want to invalidate that time by calling a spade a spade. You may overlook some of the issues with UTA.  You may rationalize and justify that the overall good of the project outweighs other issues like compensation.  You may be willing to risk the entire effort on whether UTA will financially be able to deliver.   You’ll try to find a way to make it work.   And that just may be a disservice to the people you represent.

We all want to ensure that our mountains, and really our community’s lifeblood, is maintained for our children.  Yet, perhaps a more tactical solution, dedicated to Summit County, makes sense. David Ure stood up and said “PAY ATTENTION” and for that we thank him.  He truly seems to have our best interest at heart.

Hopefully our other leaders will at least take a second look and decide whether the Mountain Accord, as it is progressing today, is right for the people they represent. Our hope is that they truly examine not only how good it sounds but truly what is likely to be delivered. Will that be good for Summit County? If not, we hope they decide to go in another direction.

Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t include this video from another town’s fight:


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