When a citizen petition in August of 2012 during the Truth-in-Taxation hearing stopped Summit County from enacting a property tax increase, it led to over $700,000 in cuts to road maintenance projects and about a $250,000 cut to the Sheriff's Office's budget. A bill in the legislature could help counties avoid situations like that in the future.
S.B. 61, sponsored by Sen. Deidre Henderson (R-Spanish Fork), would give counties that decide to raise taxes the ability to hold a Truth-in-Taxation hearing when it approves the budget for the following year (in Summit County's case, December) as opposed to during August of the following year, after the new taxes are levied.
During a Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee meeting on Feb. 13, Henderson said the bill solves a great problem and that it has been a collaborative effort of many different parties.
"[S.B. 61] speeds up the budgetary process a little bit and requires two weeks prior to a general election for notification to be made in a public meeting for taxes to be raised in the next year," Henderson said. "That fall, the [tax increase] notice can be put in with the Truth-in-Taxation hearing to be [held] at the budget hearing."
Arie Van Der Graff of the Utah Association of Counties spoke at the committee in favor of the bill and said it is the organization's "number one priority" this session.
Heidi Erickson of the Utah Taxpayers Association also approved of the bill and said it "solves a lot of problems."
Officials in Summit County are pleased with what S.B. 61 would do as well. County Treasurer Corrie Forsling said the bill "makes a lot of sense."
"When there is a citizen petition to repeal a tax increase (such as we had in 2012), the date of the August hearing makes it very difficult for the treasurers to comply with the requirements to mail out the tax notices by November 1," Forsling said in an e-mail. "I've been in talks about this [bill] for a year now, and I've always felt that as long as there is sufficient notice to the affected taxpayers of the [Truth-in-Taxation] hearing dates, it's an improvement to the current system."
Summit County Manager Bob Jasper said the changes that S.B. 61 would enact would help the Truth-in-Taxation hearing better match the county's budget cycle. When the hearing is scheduled in August, he said the county adopts the budget the prior January and does not know how much money it will have in its budget until August.
"Our citizens should be able to make an impact at a time that makes the most sense," Jasper said.
Jacqueline Smith of the Save the American Republic Forum said she is fine with S.B. 61 as long as it allows citizens 45 days to gather signatures for a petition against the proposed tax increase.
Smith added that she does have issues with a similar bill, S.B. 228, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid (R-Ogden), which would require that an initiative or referendum petition in a city, county or town meet certain signature requirements, such as having a total number of signatures equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast during a presidential election if the total number of votes exceeded 25,000, among other requirements.
"[In 2012], we had to get a certain number of signatures countywide, even though these [tax] increases didn't affect everyone in the county," Smith said. "The only people who should be signing these referendums is people [who would be] affected by the tax increase."
Rep. Kraig Powell's (R-Heber City) H.B. 238 would seek to accomplish that goal by only allowing those residents who would be affected by a tax increase to sign a petition. It includes the same signature requirements as S.B. 228. H.B. 238 was scheduled for the Senate's third reading calendar as of Thursday, while S.B. 228 was placed on the Senate's second reading calendar.
Forsling said that another bill that would impact her work as treasurer is S.B. 244, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond (R-South Jordan), which would give taxpayers the option to have their property tax bill e-mailed to them rather than printed and mailed.
"[It's] not very glamorous, but a change that could have significant impact on property tax billing in the future," Forsling said. "This [bill] was generated at the request of the Treasurers' Association after I ramped up Summit [County's] tax notice e-mailing last year. It may not get passed this year, but it's a start."
S.B. 244 is still in the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee. For more information on these bills, visit le.utah.gov.