Summit County Council approves tax increase for Basin Rec
After taking a week to further deliberate the proposal, the Summit County Council unanimously approved the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District’s property tax increase Wednesday, giving Basin Rec what it says are necessary funds to maintain its operations.
The council also approved a $61.4 million 2020 county budget. That’s about $5.7 million more than last year and includes a handful of new or reorganized positions equaling five new full-time employees.
The bulk of that increase — $2.9 million — comes from federal and state grants to the Summit County Health Department in the mental wellness and substance abuse divisions, finance officer Matt Leavitt has said.
The county’s budget does not include any new taxes, though subsidiary groups like Mountain Regional Water and Basin Rec have increased their impact on taxpayers. Leavitt said the county is considering next raising taxes in 2021.
Citizens at last week’s public hearing about the Basin Rec proposal decried yet another increase to their tax bills, though many supported the work done by the recreation district. Many suggested turning to user fees to raise revenue rather than a tax hike.
District and elected officials, however, said it would be unlikely Basin Rec would be able to make significant amounts of money from new fees because of the cost of enforcing them.
The increase will equal about $14.50 per $100,000 of taxable value on a primary home. It will add about $2.4 million to the district’s coffers annually and amounts to a 29% bump in the Basin Rec portion of a primary resident’s tax bill.
Councilor Chris Robinson was absent but indicated after the vote he would have supported the measure.
The council, convened as the governing board of the district, approved a measure that increases the allowable tax rate for one portion of Basin Rec’s tax impact. The vote essentially set a ceiling to how much revenue the district could raise, but didn’t set a specific rate. That won’t be finalized until June, and Councilor Kim Carson urged the district to find a way to lessen the increase.
The council approved Basin Rec’s 2020 budget at the same meeting as they approved the maximum tax rate, and Carson pointed to $770,000 earmarked for future capital projects as a place the district could cut.
That money would fund new projects like trailheads and trails and is distinct from a $630,000 allocation to replace current facilities, which Carson said she supports.
“We’ve got to … make sure we take good care of what we’ve got before we start talking any major expansions,” Carson said. “I would have liked to see a reduction in that.”
Since 2004, Basin Rec has grown tremendously, adding thousands of acres of open space and nearly 100 miles of trails, district director Brian Hanton said. That growth is costly to maintain and produces almost no revenue.
Much of that growth has been financed with open space bonds approved by taxpayers, which require the land to be programmed for active recreation.
Hanton wrote in an email that the district will take Carson’s comments to heart and reexamine its list of projects.
“Our board and staff are committed to looking at our long term project list and prioritizing how we can meet the goals of the organization/community in the most financially responsible way,” Hanton wrote.
In addition to being able to maintain the thousands of acres of open space the rec district is responsible for, including treating for noxious weeds and costly fire mitigation work, Hanton said the tax increase will allow the district to pursue some new projects. He pointed to developing trailheads and trails at recently acquired open space like the Triangle parcel in lower Silver Creek, replacing playgrounds and developing parks.
“I am happy that the Council recognizes the importance of recreation in our community and what we do as an organization to make our town a special place to live,” Hanton wrote. “We take the responsibility of this increase seriously and will use the funds judiciously.”
The county’s 2020 budget includes a 2% cost-of-living increase and a possible 3% merit raise for employees and a new program to partially match 401k spending.
The new positions increase the hours of a senior services administrator from part- to full-time, adding a stormwater inspector, a behavioral health budget manager, a GIS coordinator, a public works weed-enforcement officer and a working inmate crew lead and restructuring of the communications and public engagement office.
The increase to the Health Department’s budget is due to the changeover in how the county provides behavioral health. Instead of state and federal funds going directly to the previous provider, Valley Behavioral Health, the county controls the money.
Department heads had requested a roughly $68 million budget and 24 new full-time employees. The budget committee, county manager and County Council slashed those requests by about $7 million and 17 employees.
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