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Bill may diminish P.C. transit funding

Dan Bischoff, Of the Record staff

Free Park City transit may take a hit if the senate passes House Bill 282.

"It would decrease our revenue of $314,000, which is a huge chunk of change," said Sally Elliott, Summit County Commissioner. "That would definitely affect Park City’s ability to provide free transit and the county’s ability to participate in it."

It’s proposed HB282 would basically remove taxes from the purchase of food and food ingredients. Currently much of those sales tax dollars go toward free transit in Park City.

"We are able to fund it right now in cooperation with Summit County and Park City," Elliott said. "Transit here needs to remain free in order to keep people off of clogged roads."

The bill specifically impacts Park City because it is a resort town and depends on sales tax revenues generated from tourists.

"It’s going to affect Summit County more than any county in the state," Elliott said. "We have a large amount of taxable revenue that comes from the sale of food during big tourist times."

Elliott said the money comes from "mostly people who are destination tourists who are coming in and buying food. We can’t do it in the same way."

According to local officials, this is an important issue.

"To locals, the free transit is a major benefit," said Jerry Gibbs, the director of public works at Park City Transit. "The vast majority of revenues are from tourist dollars as opposed to local dollars. It will certainly have an impact."

Representative Christine Johnson (D-SLC), who voted against the bill, sees is as particularly damaging to Park City because the amount of tourists dollars spent here.

"Tourists are consuming goods greater than residents are," Johnson said.

Johnson said removing the tax would take much of the tourist dollars away from Park City.

If the bill passes, Johnson said it will be "significantly damaging to the revenue of Park City. The community relies upon the services (supported by the tax). It will be very damaging to the general public."

Johnson, however, said she supports reducing a tax on food to give financially strapped residents an easier time. The bill she said, didn’t offer much of an alternative to recoup the losses.

"We are very supportive, but not in the expense of offering free transit in Park City," Johnson said.

Elliott said the bill would allow Park City to increase the resort city restaurant tax to 1.1 percent instead of the current 1 percent to make up for the losses. But, the numbers, according to Johnson, didn’t add up. Johnson said while local governments could increase other local taxes, most are not in favor of doing that.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions," Johnson said. "Without having any clear identifier of recouping that loss, I can’t support the deal. It didn’t give enough evidence. I can’t pass anything if I don’t have enough information."

Johnson said the Utah Association of Counties and Towns has taken position against the bill as currently written.

"With the predicted net loss, just to transit services in Park City, I understand the discomfort, because that’s the hit," Johnson said.

The bill proposed an added $17 million would be produced to help with the losses. Johnson, however, saw it as a phantom number.

"My question was, ‘Where is the $17 million coming from?’ Essentially, I did not receive a fiscal note that met my satisfaction. It did not have detailed list of how it would impact it.

"I am a strong advocate of removing (the tax)," Johnson added. "But I don’t think we should lose it without presenting an opportunity for returning that revenue in some way."

Elliott says there are other ways to help the poor than by removing the food tax. While eliminating the tax on food will help some people, the question throughout the debate surrounding HB282l was, "Are there better or more efficient ways to help those who need that help the most, aside from eliminating tax on food?"

Elliott said the bill would also remove some funds from the cultural arts and rural hospitals

"It will make skyrocketing costs in medical care," Elliott said.

The passage of the bill could have far-reaching consequences and those against it don’t think all possible outcomes have been fully analyzed.

"If they would just fund education and health and human services at a higher level, they would help poor people more readily, of a direct nature. They’d be miles ahead in the long run," Elliott said.

While the ideal of saving poor people cash for a basic need is a noble goal, Elliott doesn’t see this bill as an answer.

"We care very deeply, but for the people in those counties, it leaves them no way to recoup loss of revenue. It’s not going to be sufficient," Elliott added.

"Without providing an opportunity to recoup the lost revenue, it’s always a bad idea to take something away without offering a counter balance," Johnson said.

Even though the bill has been passed by the House and currently waits to be decided in the Senate, Johnson will still fight against it.

"I will be offering them my notes and my concerns so they can ask these questions again," Johnson said. "I am determined to represent my constituency."

"It’s going to the Senate and now we have to kill it," Elliott agreed.


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