Summit County Council delays decision on Basin Rec tax increase amid community pushback
Community reaction to the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District’s proposed property tax increase was overwhelmingly negative at a public hearing Wednesday, and the Summit County Council decided to delay a decision on the request and Basin Rec’s budget for another week.
The council chambers were full at the Sheldon Richins building as a crowd of more than 50 people listened to Basin Rec Director Brian Hanton’s presentation about the need for the tax hike, which would be the district’s first in 15 years.
Since 2004, the district has grown tremendously, adding thousands of acres of open space and nearly 100 miles of trails, Hanton has said. That growth is costly to maintain and produces almost no revenue.
More than 20 people commented on the proposal over the course of about two hours, and all but three opposed it. The speakers were generally older residents who said they supported what the district does but that the tax hike was too costly.
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The hike would increase Basin Rec’s operations and management budget by 72%, which was the number sent out to residents. The overall increase to the Basin Rec line item would be lower, though: Roughly half of the district’s tax revenue is used to pay off taxpayer approved bonds, and that number would not change.
Including the debt portion of the tax bill, a full-time resident would see a roughly 29% increase in the amount going to Basin Rec if the tax increase were approved. The district is one of the handful of taxing jurisdictions included on a tax bill alongside entities like a school district or municipal government.
The total shakes out to a roughly $14.50 increase per $100,000 of taxable value on a primary home.
Many commenters advocated finding alternative sources of revenue in some form of user fees, like trailhead parking passes or tags for mountain bikes.
One commenter, Tom Steinmetz, said that he takes classes at Basin Rec’s Fieldhouse and uses the trails. He said he understands the position the district is in having not increased taxes in 15 years but opposed the proposal.
“I hate raising taxes. We ought to learn to live frugally within our means,” Steinmetz said. “I’m in favor of user fees. … I’d pay for that.”
Members of the council and Basin Rec leadership said user fees are something they’ve considered but that enforcement costs might undo potential gains in revenue. County Councilor Kim Carson said Wednesday night’s public hearing likely accelerated discussions about implementing some sort of fee system.
Many comments focused on people from outside Summit County coming up and using the trails for free. Some residents talked about vans full of people with 10 bikes on the back coming up to mountain bike, while others talked about friends from Salt Lake City hoarding the plastic baggies made available to trail users for pet waste.
Resident Carolyn Rose said she’d be willing to see a cutback in services until other revenue sources could be found.
“I’m tired of paying for other people to use our trails — not that I don’t think we should share,” Rose said. “I really think we need to start looking at other options for revenue. … Sometimes I feel like I’m getting taxed to death.”
One woman suggested mailing out a parking permit for residents along with property taxes and charging a fee for those who don’t pay taxes in Summit County; one long-time resident, Melvin Flinders, advocated for a sort of “trail sheriff” to enforce the rules.
County councilors seemed to indicate support for the tax increase. The County Council acts as the governing body of Basin Rec and is tasked with approving its budget. Each councilor voiced support for the notion of implementing some sort of user fee, though they pointed out enforcement costs would likely significantly reduce the budgetary gains.
“Enforcement is a tough issue,” Carson said. “It’s one thing to get $10 a tag, but it won’t pay for itself if it’s not enforced.”
Councilor Doug Clyde said that, when he examined the district’s budget, he was struck by the lack of a fund for replacing capital infrastructure like playgrounds, trails and equipment.
“We didn’t have a reserve for replacement of fixed assets,” Clyde said. “I come from a capital-intensive business — I know what that number is, I know what it needs to be. You don’t get away for a moment without paying for replacement of gross fixed assets.”
The County Council voted unanimously to postpone a decision until Wednesday, Dec. 11, during its public meeting at the County Courthouse in Coalville.
Hanton said members of the council met with members of Basin Rec’s board on Thursday to discuss the public input and how to move forward. He said they examined parking fees and ways to regulate commercial usage of the system, like guided snowshoe hikes from third-party vendors, for example.
At the meeting on Wednesday, Hanton said he and the district thought they were doing the community a service by holding off on a tax increase, and they realize the financial impact it would have on residents.
Though he recognized that not everybody uses Basin Rec’s offerings, he said he believed they are an important community asset and important for residents’ quality of life.
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