Summit County begins process to increase 2018 property taxes
County manager proposes drastic budget cuts if they aren’t raised
September 23, 2017
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher officially told the County Council on Wednesday that he recommends the county go through the Truth in Taxation notification process to raise property taxes.
In recent months, Fisher and county staffers have suggested the increase to avoid drastic cuts to services and programs. He said there is a common misconception that the county is growing substantially, but that is not necessarily the case.
"Because of how property tax revenue is calculated in the state, the only way for revenue to increase is through new growth. But none of that accounts for inflation," Fisher said. "We also have increased services to address sustainability, economic development, affordable housing and transportation. We have added expenditures in order to react to programs and services that are strategic priorities of the council."
Staffers are recommending a $3 million and $1.1 million increase in the general and municipal services funds, respectively. The municipal services fund, which supports law enforcement, snow plowing, road maintenance and community development and planning, is levied in the unincorporated areas of the county. It was last raised in 2013. Services provided through the general fund include ambulance, waste collections, corrections, public health, the library and youth recreation programs.
The proposed increase — 27 percent — would amount to about a 5.5-to-7 percent hike on the average property tax bill for primary residents in the county, according to a county staff report. The impact on the average taxable value of a primary residence, not market value, would be about $34.90 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.
The county's budget committee is recommending a $51 million operating budget for 2018, which is slightly higher than the $48.8 million budget that was approved for 2017. Fisher said if the property tax revenues are not increased at least 15 percent, then $2.6 million would need to be cut from the committee's recommendation.
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To achieve the reduction, Fisher made preliminary suggestions that included removing one full-time employee, removing the cost-of-living adjustment for employees and not covering benefit increases. He said the council could also consider reserving the $100,000 that is typically spent in grants to outside agencies such as Nuzzles & Co. and the People's Health Clinic, a 2 percent cut to public safety, and closures of the Coalville branches of the Summit County Library and Health Department, among others.
"I think we will put at risk our ability to take a leadership role and advance issues if we have to make these cuts," Fisher said. "There are also some insular risks that are harder to quantify like, 'What does this do to our relationships with community partners and municipalities?' The deductions I have suggested will put those things at risk.
"I don't make these recommendations lightly, but I do feel it is my responsibility to do so," he said.
County Councilor Roger Armstrong responded to Fisher's statement with: "It is also our responsibility to make sure we are appropriately funding the services we provide."
"We have been dodging this for a while and if we don't do something on a long-term basis our present course is unsustainable," Armstrong said. "I think this is a case where we have to bite the bullet. I mean we have gotten away without it for about 30 years."
"Most jurisdictions aren't able to withhold having an increase for generations," he said. "We do have important goals we are trying to reach and if we are going to pursue those goals we have to figure out a way to fund them."
County Council member Kim Carson, who attended the meeting via telephone conference, referred to the presentation as "sobering."
County Councilor Glenn Wright said the county should be building its fund balances now while the economic environment is relatively stable.
"We are going to have ups and downs and we should be building our balances for when we have a couple of bad years," Wright said.
With the council's support, the county will issue a notice of intent during the Oct. 11 public meeting to go through the process of increasing revenues. Before Nov. 1, a notice must be mailed to property owners.
At the Dec. 6 County Council meeting, the county will hold its first public hearing on the 2018 budget, which may include the recommended hike, according to a staff report. After the Dec. 13 hearing, the property tax may be adopted. If approved, the Nov. 1, 2018, property tax notices would include the new rates.
To view the staff report about the proposed increase, go to http://summitcounty.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_09202017-1348?html=true. The item is listed under work session and includes the staff report and presentation that was given to County Councilors.