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Capital projects blamed for big budget hikes

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Saying they need more roads and buildings, officials insist Summit County’s budget should increase by $6 million in 2007.

"About [$5.5 million] of that is capital projects," Summit County Auditor Blake Frazier said.

More than $4 million budgeted in 2007 for land acquisition tops a list of nearly 20 projects planned in the county that includes expansion of the Summit County Justice Center and the realignment of Landmark Drive at Kimball Junction.

"This is because of tremendous growth," Frazier said about the ambitious building plans. "I think it’s an accumulation of the last 15 years."

Studies show in the next 25 years nearly $100 million in transportation improvements and $20 million in new facilities would be necessary for Summit County to keep up with population estimates.

"We’ve started on satisfying those growth issues and that’s why budgets have increased," Frazier explained.

Newer programs to improve public trails, parking lots and mass transit in the county require more money from taxpayers, Frazier said.

"There is going to be a tax-rate increase at some point in time if we continue to offer more services and more programs," he said. "We’ve reached a pinnacle."

With the county collecting nearly 10 percent more in taxes, Frazier claims property taxes from new development only "covers current services for new citizens."

The county could collect $46 million in revenue but balancing next year’s budget might still mean taking about $4 million from its rainy-day surplus.

"I’m surprised and a little bit disappointed that sales tax didn’t increase more," Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer said with budget talks underway this week in Coalville.

Frazier explained that the ski season contributed the most to a sales-tax increase of 9 percent.

"If we have good snow, sales taxes are much greater," he said, adding that county officials expect to collect more than $7.5 million in sales tax in 2007.

Meanwhile, Frazier says department heads weren’t excessive in their requests for funding next year.

"We cut almost every budget (request) in the county, some," he said.

But the Summit County Attorney’s Office in the past four years has seen its budget increase by 61 percent.

Higher costs likely contributed to a recommendation from budget officials that commissioners deny a request from County Attorney David Brickey for a refrigerator for his office.

"We don’t buy fridges for offices," Frazier said.

The government’s attorneys, who mostly reside outside of Summit County, were also criticized for allegedly claiming reimbursement from taxpayers for more miles than they actually drive while on duty.

"Two-thousand dollars for every employee they have," Frazier said. "That’s not reality."

Increases expected in other department budgets include:

The budget for the Summit County Commission could increase nearly 6 percent after jumping 28 percent in the past four years.

The budget for the Summit County Auditor’s Office could increase 11 percent after a 34 percent increase in the past four years.

The budget for the Summit County Clerk’s Office could decrease 9 percent after increasing 12 percent in the past four years.

The budget for the Summit County Treasurer’s Office is expected to jump 8 percent in 2007 after increasing 27 percent over the past four years.

The budget for the Summit County Recorder’s Office could increase 5 percent after a 4-year spike of 23 percent.

The Summit County Assessor’s Office expects an increase in 2007 of 7 percent after a roughly 31 percent jump in the past four years.

The budget for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office could jump 20 percent in 2007 after experiencing a 4-year increase of 34 percent. The budget for the Summit County Jail could jump 18 percent and Summit County’s search-and-rescue team expects a budget increase of 10 percent. A 15 percent increase is projected for Summit County Animal Control.

A public hearing the County Commission must conduct before next year’s proposed $45.7 million is approved is slated for Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. at the County Courthouse, 60 N. Main in Coalville.

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