The Utah Association of Counties met with the Summit County Council Wednesday, May 8 to discuss two proposals to fix the state's current referendum law.

"What I think we'll be able to argue to the Legislature is that it's not workable," Utah Association of Counties Executive Director Brent Gardner said. "The way it is, you've got to do something. What's your solution? This is our solution. It's the best one we could come up with. You've got to get us out from a referendum in August."

In December 2011, following a sparsely attended Truth in Taxation hearing, the Summit County Council passed a tax increase on the Municipal Fund and Service Area #6 taxes.

law, the county is required to hold another Truth in Taxation hearing in August, halfway through the budget year.

Following that Truth in Taxation hearing last year, a group of residents drummed up petitions opposing both tax increases, and were successful in halting them.

"That was the result of the actions of a relatively small part of our community," Councilmember Roger Armstrong said.

Because of the timeline requirements for putting a measure on an upcoming ballot, referendums passed following August Truth in Taxation hearings cannot get onto the ballot that year.

In the county's case, unless a special election is held, citizens will not be able to vote on the increases until the 2014 general election, effectively holding the increases in limbo until that point.


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Councilmember Kim Carson pointed out the county may have to wait up to three years after passing a tax increase to know whether or not a tax increase will be successful.

"If the referendum happens in the year you have a general election, you can't collect the tax for the current year you've already budgeted for, and you can't get it on the ballot for two more years. That's two more years you have uncertainty," she said.

Gardner said the association discussed repealing the ability for the public to have a second referendum in August

"We had legal people take a look at [it] and the response was, no," he said. "If it's done by the County Council or County Commission acting as a legislative body, then constitutionally, you can't do away with it," he said.

To get around the problem, Gardner suggested the law be changed so that county councils and commissions are required to make an October announcement of a tax increase.

"Then we might be able to do away with the Truth in Taxation hearing in August," he said. "You would be bound by the October announcement; if you don't announce by October; then you can't increase in December. If you do announce, then you don't necessarily have to increase the tax. But that gives you the time to get around the referendum constraints."

Gardner noted that doing away with the second referendum has come under public fire.

"So you say we're taking away the public's right," he said. "Well, we're taking away the public's right to have two referendums on the same budget. Right now they have two chances: they can issue a referendum in December and turn around an issue another one in August. The cities have an easier referendum problem. They only have one to begin with."

Another option proposed by Gardner is to announce a tax increase based on the prior year's property tax values.

"If there's no referendum, the tax increase becomes permanent," he said. "But if you want to get an increase above that in August by going to the current year values, then there would be another referendum possible, but only on the increase from the prior year values to the current year values."

Councilmember Chris Robinson said he favors the first proposal.

"I think the other one is more complicated," he said.

Gardner said the Utah Association of Counties needs to call a meeting of commissions, councils and policy makers to discuss the options.

"We need to decide what we want to do as a group, and then I think we can get it done," he said.