Last Wednesday, the County Commission unanimously adopted a $10 annual vehicle registration fee beginning this July. The new fee provides governments with local funds to preserve land needed for new or expanded roadways. A Park Record front page story and editorial that same day questioned the validity and fairness of this funding source. Both pieces saw the fee as unfair to east side residents since it’s likely that most of the initial benefit will go to west side roads. The editorial also called the fee too little and too late and expressed the view that development impact fees were a better way to pay the majority of the cost of new roads. These pieces made it look like a west side plan to tax east side residents. But if that was the case, why would all of the Commissioners have voted to approve this fee. It turns out that things are never as simple as they may seem.
A recently completed transportation plan found that western Summit County’s traffic will easily double in the next two decades. But Summit County as a whole, including the east side, is expected to grow to over 85,000 residents by 2030. That growth spurt will tax every east side road with new traffic problems. While most east side cities may not need land for new roads now, that’s the same situation the Snyderville Basin faced only a decade ago.
As to the issue of fairness, it’s true that new roads are needed on the west side first. But even if all the fees collected on the east side were initially used to buy land for Basin roads, east side residents might pay 2-4 percent of the total cost of those roads since most vehicles and fees are on the west side. Given that the junction is the employment and tax base for the county, it could be argued that east-siders would receive at least that much of a benefit from this vital business district. However, it’s likely that a fair proportion of these funds will be used in the future to improve intersections in growing communities such as Kamas and Oakley or to widen S.R. 32 between them. The lesson from the west side is that land always appreciates faster than the resources available to acquire it. In the Commission’s view, it’s prudent to think ahead.
The editorial mentioned that traffic impact fees seemed a more appropriate tool for new roads. While the county expects to adopt a traffic impact fee this year, this funding source has several drawbacks. First, impact fees can’t be used to correct existing problems but only to mitigate the impacts of new growth. Basin roads are already overcrowded, so impact fees alone can’t solve the problem. Also fees come in slowly with development while annual traffic grows twice as fast as population. Faster action and a range of funding is needed to address our county and city road problems.
The county’s plan for the Basin calls for a complex set of responses including expanded transit, interregional cooperation and yes, some new roads. In order to fund these improvements, the plan taps all available sources including impact fees from new development, license fees from county residents, an improvement district for local business, transit sales taxes and state funding. The vehicle fee doesn’t take any money away from cities. It’s a fair way for all county residents to fund land for roads that will be needed throughout the county. In short, the Commission adopted the fee to help all jurisdictions within the county to address their current and future road demands.
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