On Wednesday, the Summit County Council approved two resolutions that would increase the tax rates for two county funds: the Municipal Services Fund and the Service Area 6 Fund.
Despite a contentious atmosphere at last week's Truth-In-Taxation hearing, the Council decided to go forward with the increases primarily to improve their ability to manage the county's roads, among other functions.
The approved increases include a $1.4 million increase for the Municipal Services Fund (from $15.4 million to $16.8 million) and a $188,000 increase to the Service Area 6 Fund (from $902,000 to $1.09 million). For the Municipal Services Fund, roughly $2.8 million comes from property taxes so the increase would amount to around a 50 percent increase in what that fund receives from property taxes.
Summit County Manager Bob Jasper said there have been many misleading statements about the proposed increases.
"The county is not increasing taxes by 50 percent. We are proposing to increase one fund's tax rates," Jasper said. "Most people's taxes are going to go down next year. In terms of tax rates, that's about a two percent increase, not 50 percent."
Because those who live in cities such as Park City already pay into the General Fund to receive services like road repair, snow removal and law enforcement, Summit County Council member Roger Armstrong said it is unfair to also tax those people for municipal services.
Armstrong added that the county's ability to provide services through these funds has gone down dramatically.
"Both [funds] are underfunded they've never been raised," Armstrong said. "It's unreasonable to expect that the county can provide those same services. There's been giant growth and inflation has been such that the cost of providing those services has gone up a lot."
The net decrease in taxes will come about because of cuts to the Summit County General Fund and the Multi-county Assess and Collect Fund. Summit County Accountant Matt Leavitt stressed that the county has taken drastic steps in streamlining the budget.
"The most important thing people need to know about [these increases] is that the county has tried to do the most that it could to reduce the impact on taxpayers," Leavitt said.
Cuts the county has made include a $250,000 reduction in the Sheriff's Department budget, $777,000 in deferred road projects, 22 positions eliminated (with an additional three unfunded) and a reduction in the overall budget from $52 million to $46 million.
Summit County Engineer Derrick Radke has previously stated that putting off road repairs ends up costing more in the end. Two projects that have been deferred (the Jeremy Ranch and Old Ranch Road projects) have garnered increased costs of over $2.6 million, he said.
Radke addressed what the increases will do for the county's ability to maintain roads.
"It's closer but it's not everything we need," Radke said. "You can pay something now or you can pay eight times as much in three, four or five years."
Leavitt warned that if road projects such as these were put off for a couple more years, the county would have to look to bonding to fund them.
"You're bonding for projects that you should have taken care of for maintenance," Leavitt said. "That's like letting the oil go on your car. You can say, 'I don't have the $20 or $30 to change that oil,' but eventually the motor's going to go out on that car and you're going to have to spend a lot more to get that car repaired."
Leavitt added the county is very sensitive about Summit County residents' fear of higher taxes, but also wants them to know just how much they have cut services.
"It gets to the point where we've cut and from my perspective I say, 'Come on, meet us part way,'" Leavitt said. "We've cut services. We're not asking for everything that we feel we might need."
Jasper reiterated the county's budgetary priority.
"In the end, what the budget will be about will be road maintenance," Jasper said. "People are worried about what their tax bill will say -- what they will pay and for most people that (the General Fund tax rate) will go down."
Because of the inverse relationship in the state of Utah between property values and property tax rates, Armstrong says that with the current forecast of an increase in property values, the tax increase will be "negligible."
Armstrong said the county will be distributing informative pamphlets on the fund increases and he encourages citizens to write their council members and request additional information. He also said residents should be wary about signing any petitions against the increases, such as happened last year.
"If you don't know what the petition is really about and what the taxes are really about, it's easy to be mislead," Armstrong said. "We don't want anyone to accept this blindly. We want them to know why it's necessary."