County officials react to transportation sales tax vote
November 13, 2015
How voters in other counties reacted to Proposition 1, which asked for an increase to the local sales tax to pay for transportation improvements, has no bearing on whether Summit County will pursue the option during the next general election, according to county officials.
Nearly half of the counties in Utah, including Davis and Weber, agreed to support the county-wide tax option during the recent municipal elections. However, the results won’t be final until an official canvas on Tuesday, Nov. 17. Salt Lake County, which was projected to receive almost $49 million in revenue, voted the measure down 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent.
Seventeen counties had the measure on their ballots. Of the 17, 11 favored the county-wide option, which would impose a quarter of a cent sales tax increase on all goods and services. Funds would be earmarked for transportation-related projects only.
In Summit County, 0.10 percent would go to the municipalities and unincorporated areas, 0.10 percent to the Park City and Snyderville Basin transit districts and 0.05 percent to the county.
The portion that would be distributed to the municipalities and unincorporated areas is subject to a statewide population/point-of-sale distribution among participating counties.
The measure narrowly passed in several of the counties and in some cases, like Grand, San Juan and Tooele, only did so by a couple hundred votes or less.
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"I’m not sure the actual votes have a huge bearing on us," said Tom Fisher, Summit County manager. "One of the things that I think is kind of instructive is the counties that voted it down did so because of the way the sales tax is distributed in the state so we have to decide if that is a good source for us."
In the months leading up to the municipal election, Summit County officials considered putting the measure on the local ballots. Leaders of the six municipalities were asked to support the increase, which would also distribute funding among the cities. In June, Oakley City leaders announced they would not support the increase. However, Coalville Mayor Trever Johnson, Kamas Mayor Lew Marchant and Park City Mayor Jack Thomas said they would.
Part of the concern Summit County Council members focused on the amount of revenue the county was expected to receive through the tax, which is contingent on some of the larger counties, such as Weber, Davis, Utah and Salt Lake, participating. The Utah League of Cities and Towns estimated the county would receive $3.2 million if all 29 counties in Utah participated.
"The big counties that would impact the amount of money the county would receive, such as Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Utah, would really impact the revenues," said Matt Leavitt, Summit County financing officer. "The others do not have a lot, comparatively speaking, the retail sales that those counties have."
Summit County officials did not put the measure on the ballot for several reasons, including to see how it fared in other counties and because no plans were in place outlining how the funds would be spent.
"I think our biggest reason for not moving forward was we just didn’t feel like we were quite ready," said Kim Carson, Summit County Council chair. "We know we can always use additional funding for transportation, but as far as major projects we wanted to get a better idea of what those top projects would be and what they would cost.
"We still aren’t quite sure what was passed under Prop 1 is the best alternative," Carson said. "We will be looking at a whole array of options to see where we can get the best bang for our buck."
During the next several months, officials will be exploring what revenue sources will be the most appropriate for the projects the county is interested in pursuing, Fisher said, adding those discussions may include tax or bond initiatives. However, nothing has been discussed in any detail at this point.
"We are certainly going to talk bond scenarios if we see larger projects, such as the Jeremy Ranch interchange or say we went after some type of large fixed guideway system. We would have to bond for that," Fisher said. "But there is nothing definitive at this point and there are a lot of moving parts to it. We have UDOT as a partner, Park City and potentially Wasatch County depending on where the projects are and what they are. I think our introducing different revenue sources and their availability to raise revenue, as well as introducing our debt load and debt limits and taking about bonds is simply to give the council and public an initial look as we look at these transportation plans and pursuing strategic efforts."
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