The atmosphere was tense and public input was in abundance at Wednesday night's Truth-In-Taxation hearing at the Summit County Courthouse.
The hearing was held to address the proposed tax increases to the Municipal Services Fund as well as for Service Area 6, which provides road maintenance and snow removal in certain areas in the county. Summit County is required by the state legislature to hold such a hearing if increases are requested.
The county is requesting an increase in the Municipal Fund budget by nine percent, to $16.8 million, mainly for funding road maintenance projects. Service Area 6 will be looking at an increase to roughly $1.14 million.
The average impact on a primary improved residence based on these increases would be $58 per year, but most districts will see net tax decreases as high as $90 due to the fact that the taxes for both the Summit County General Fund and the Multi-County Assess and Collect Fund will be going down.
Many at the hearing were concerned that any hike in property taxes was uncalled for. Jacqueline Smith, who spoke at the hearing, said in an earlier interview with The Park Record that although overall taxes may be down this year, the increase in taxes will be greater when property values rise again.
Summit County Manager Bob Jasper said this statement is simply false.
"When the assessed value [of a home] goes up, by law we must lower our tax rate," Jasper said. "The formula you're seeing in the hearing is not compared to last year's tax, but based on the fact that the state wanted it to go down based on assessed value and growth."
Ann Daniel, a Park City resident who spoke, said that bringing in another big-box store like a Costco could be a way for the county to garner additional revenue.
"[There would be] taxes on the building, employment, and people would come here from Evanston and Salt Lake to shop," Daniel said. She then pointed to her Costco receipt, on which she paid roughly $25 in sales taxes. "I'd much rather leave that money in this county rather than down in Salt Lake."
Kristen Brown, also a Park City resident, echoed Daniel's sentiment.
"More big-box stores could come if we advertised that they were welcome here," Brown said.
Brown added that she was concerned especially for the middle class, saying she feels it is being "squeezed out" by taxes on both residences and small businesses. She believes the county should be taking greater steps at creating "efficiencies."
Summit County Council member Roger Armstrong took issue with this statement of Brown's.
"It's important to come up with solid suggestions I want to know from you what some of these efficiencies are," Armstrong said. "We're not talking about increasing taxes from a philosophical standpoint. Specifically what would you do in Service Area 6 and the Municipal Fund to create greater efficiencies?"
In response, Brown stated she would offer suggestions if she could view the county's budgets for those funds. Armstrong replied that the public has had more than a year to give input on those funds. Jasper added that all budgets are publicly available for viewing.
Summit County Auditor Blake Frazier brought up an issue the county has had with the Municipal Fund tax. Since it was created in 1988 it has never changed with inflation.
"We never have been able to do something with inflation. The price of gas isn't any cheaper to fill up county vehicles," Frazier said. "We're still charging x amount of dollars 25 years later."
Consequences of budget cuts
Because of the citizen referendum last year, the county was forced to reduce its budget from $52 million to $46 million, cut 22 staff positions and leave an additional three positions unfunded. The cuts forced over $770,000 in road projects to be deferred, which will lead to greater costs later, said Summit County Engineer Derrick Radke.
The cuts have also had a severe effect on the budget of the Summit County Sheriff's Office, which has been cut by $250,000.
"It's been a lot more than $250,000 [in cuts] because I have additional positions that have been frozen," said Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds. "[The cuts] have put a horrible strain on us, so much so that we're losing deputies and our service levels are dropping."
Edmunds said that the demand for 911 calls, bookings, court days and every statutory function the Sheriff's Office performs have increased while his staff has been heavily cut.
"We cannot maintain the status quo of eroding away my ability to perform my statutory functions," Edmunds said. "If the status quo continues, I can guarantee that the safety and security of this community will be impacted at some point."
Although no resolution was proposed, the majority of the council members seemed in favor of increases to both funds, although Council Member Dave Ure was opposed to an increase in the Municipal Fund. The council is expected to take up a resolution at next week's County Council meeting.