Council unanimously thumbs up property tax hike for Summit County |

Council unanimously thumbs up property tax hike for Summit County

Matt Leavitt, Summit County's finance officer, addresses nearly 40 people at the Summit County Courthouse in Coalville on Wednesday. The County Council approved a property tax increase after a more than two-hour discussion with the public.
Angelique McNaughton/Park Record |

The Summit County Council on Wednesday unanimously agreed to impose a property tax hike after a more than two-hour discussion with East Side residents.

The County Council’s decision came after nearly a year of meetings and conversations on the matter. The county began the Truth in Taxation process in September after County Manager Tom Fisher proposed drastic budget cuts if property taxes weren’t raised.

The Council approved a 27 percent revenue increase for the general and municipal funds, which amounts to about a 5.5 to 7 percent hike on an average property tax bill. The property tax increase was approved along with the county’s $53.8 million 2018 budget. The budget includes two additional full-time employees and $4.06 million in capital projects.

“We don’t want to raise it either and we have debated it for over a year,” Council Chair Chris Robinson said during the meeting. “But a budget was served up that had 15 percent increases for those two funds that account for about 12 percent of your property tax bill. That was done in order to maintain strategic goals and levels of service that we, as a Council, have deemed appropriate.”

Wednesday’s meeting was the second public hearing about the property tax increase and budget. More than 40 people attended the meeting, with several addressing the Council in support or opposition of the hike. The hearing on Dec. 6 at the Sheldon Richins Building attracted a similar-sized audience.

The County Council and staffers have said the increase was necessary to maintain service levels and the pursuit of the Council’s strategic goals, such as environmental stewardship, and addressing mental health and substance abuse and access to services.

Ed Rutan, a founding member of CONNECT Summit County, an advocacy group that has spearheaded the community’s effort to address the lack of mental health and substance abuse services, offered his support of the increase and the county’s desire to help fund help mental health and substance abuse efforts. Several mental health advocates provided similar comments to Rutan’s.

“I’m here as an individual taxpayer and as a member of CONNECT Summit County,” he said during the meeting. “A 15 percent increase is what is necessary to maintain the status quo, and when we are talking about mental health, the status quo doesn’t cut it. The county has underspent for years. The needs are out there and we have to start meeting those needs.”

Linda Vernon, a Coalville resident, said she would be “thrilled” to pay additional money for property taxes in order to maintain services that are offered in North Summit, such as the library. When the Council explored cutting services, the Summit County Library’s Coalville branch was one of the programs that Fisher, the county manager, suggested removing.

“I’ll give you my $27 to keep the library in my town,” Vernon said during the meeting. “It is well needed. We haven’t had an increase in a long time and I am happy to pay my money so I can have a library and health services in town.”

Others in the audience were not supportive of the increase. Many said a tax hike would put a strain on those with fixed incomes and rank-and-file workers who live in the county.

“I’m a mechanic by trade and I can’t afford these kinds of increases,” said Scott McQueen.

Another commenter, Josh Cox, blamed the increase on politics and new growth.

“Park City is the golden egg of Summit County,” he said. “If we are going to bow down to Park City, let’s try and stay to a 15 percent increase in the budget. I’m a hard-working guy and have been in this county longer than anyone in this room. It’s no coincidence that now that we have a Democratic stronghold that we get the first tax increase in 30 years.”

Sue Pollard echoed Cox’s remarks. She said East Side residents don’t see the value of an increase when it “feels as though it is all going to Park City.”

“I will never see a bus near my house and I don’t even get a garbage can even though I pay my $36,” she said. “The frustration is the middle class is being squeezed out. On this side of the county, when we don’t get garbage, I don’t see a bus and libraries are obsolete. That’s what we are feeling. It’s not our job to be everything for everyone.”

County Council member Roger Armstrong said the county does not provide services that are beyond what is provided in other counties. “We decided we want the county to provide a library and the services that we provide,” he said. “We are providing usual and customary services.”

After closing the public hearing, the County Council agreed on the 27 percent hike and quickly approved the property tax increase and budget. The new rate will be included on the Nov. 18, 2018, property tax notices and will be due on Nov. 30, 2018.

The impact on the average taxable value of a primary residence, not market value, would be about $34.50 for a $100,000 home. For those living in the county’s six municipalities, who pay only the general fund portion of the county’s property tax, the increase would be about $19.50 for a $100,000 home.

In Utah, primary homeowners are taxed at only 55 percent of the market value of their home. Secondary homeowners and commercial businesses are taxed at 100 percent of market value.

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