Those critical of how much money Tooele County Commissions have put into Deseret Peak Complex since it opened nearly 20 years got an early Christmas present last week: The facility is no longer being deeply subsidized by county coffers as before.
In last Thursday’s front-page story, “Deseret Peak subsidies decline,” it was reported the county’s 2017 general budget includes a $621,729 subsidy for the facility. This current budget year, which ends Dec. 31, allotted $555,994. Indeed, both sums are big, but they’re smaller when compared to past subsidies for Deseret Peak.
Located in the center of Tooele Valley, the recreation complex’s 600-plus acres opened in 1999 with a construction cost of $18 million. It was built using impact mitigation fees paid to the county from the U.S. military’s Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program and commercial hazardous waste disposal companies in the county’s West Desert.
The use of such fees to build Deseret Peak didn’t end there. Operational and maintenance expenses required annual subsidies for its museums, racetracks, arenas, ball fields, conference building and outdoor swimming pool.
After it opened, few citizens routinely contested Deseret Peak’s funding. All of which is understandable. The facility was paid for, and being operated and maintained, without local taxpayer funds. Better yet, local taxpayers hadn’t seen a county tax increase in years.
But then came 2012 and 2013. A complex series of financial outcomes, and unfulfilled good intentions, resulted in, as one county official called it, a “perfect storm” of declining mitigation fees, debt and a cash-flow shortage. Next came deep budget cuts and employee layoffs, department closures or consolidations, and temporary shutdowns of some county facilities.
In the center of all that chaos was Deseret Peak. With its renown for being generously subsidized — up to $3 million in 2006 and $1.8 million in 2012 — the facility was a flashpoint for county officials and citizens. When it became known that, in response to declining mitigation fees, county commissioners for years had pulled $6.5 million from other department fund balances to cover Deseret Peak’s subsidies, the facility became a scapegoat.
But since then, those fund balances have been fully repaid. And as Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne described it, “We changed our philosophy of how to operate Deseret Peak.”
The county contracted with private businesses or individuals to operate and/or sponsor Deseret Peak’s softball and soccer fields, the swimming pool and motocross tracks. Those partnerships have reduced staffing needs and costs.
Also, Milne said, any subsidies for Deseret Peak come from the general budget without borrowing from fund balances. The facility’s budget for 2017 is $2.4 million, yet only 26 percent of that amount includes a subsidy. Given that recreation-related facilities typically require subsidies to operate, the county commissioners may have found a better formula to keep the facility viable without heavy dipping into the county budget.
It is hoped the trend will continue and succeed. Since opening, Deseret Peak has become a popular recreational asset for the county that attracts thousands of participants and spectators every year — all of which contributes to the area’s economy and quality of life.