FARMINGTON — Davis County’s financial reserves are more than $214,000 poorer today.
That’s because county commissioners Tuesday decided it was better to settle with Bountiful attorney David Irvine and Utahns for Better Dental Health than for “the meter to keep running.”
That refers to legal fees that were mounting in a case involving fluoride, which was the result of the anti-fluoride UFBDH petitioning for a revote of a 2000 poll that saw Davis County narrowly approving the addition of fluoride to the county’s water. All cities eventually followed suit but Woods Cross, where a majority of voters said no to fluoridation.
“This (litigation led by Irvine) has gone on for a number of years and happened under a different watch,” said County Commissioner Louenda Downs, who made the motion to settle the case.
None of the current commissioners were in office in either 2000 or 2002. All of them have been in office less than three years.
“The charges (for legal work purportedly done by Irvine on the case) potentially could increase (if litigation continues),” she said. “The charges appear to be steep. If we delay, they could grow even more.”
“We have been left in a horrible situation. I don’t believe this is right, but we need to get this over with,” said Commissioner John Petroff.
Echoing those sentiments was Commission Chair Bret Millburn who said, “I’ve really struggled to understand how Irvine reached these conclusions. It’s disconcerting. The rules of the game changed,” he said, referring to the county believing the law was on its side in the case.
“We would not have budgeted this enormous amount,” said Clerk/Auditor Steve Rawlings, as the commissioners approved a budget change paving the way for funds to be moved from the county’s fund balance.
County Attorney Troy Rawlings and Deputy County Attorney Civil Division Craig Bott both argued that fees charged by Irvine were excessive when compared to charges by others for similar work.
“It’s a business decision,” Attorney Rawlings said. “It could cost the taxpayers a lot more money. If it were my money, I’d litigate, but it’s the taxpayers’ money. Funds are not unlimited.”
Bott said the Supreme Court sent the UFBDH case back to District Court in late December of 2007, and the county “waited, and waited and waited” for some word on attorney fees from Irvine.
Hearing nothing for more than 10 months, the county queried Irvine on Nov. 4, receiving a reply back two weeks later, with Irvine seeking $235,000.
“That was an astounding amount. We couldn’t believe it was that high,” Bott said.
The county earlier could’ve paid a $45,000 fee, Bott said, “but that was when we thought the law was on our side.”
He said the Supreme Court changed its interpretation of the “discretionary standard and applied it retroactively,” changing the rules of the game.
Irvine, meanwhile, could not be reached for comment, because he reportedly was out of the country.