East Side drawn into transportation funding talks
As Summit County and Park City officials continue to hone in on the transportation funding options they would like to pursue in the fall, Summit County Manager Tom Fisher says it’s imperative that those discussions include the East Side municipalities.
"The priority of maintaining infrastructure within the city limits of those smaller cities has to be a consideration as this goes forward," Fisher said.
Over the last few months, officials have continued to emphasize that Summit County’s existing revenue growth is not keeping up with the costs of transportation services and the shortcomings are beginning to affect existing services. As a result, Park City and Summit County Council members agreed to form a subcommittee to explore the funding options that each entity could pursue to improve traffic and reduce congestion.
One option under serious consideration is the implementation of a county-wide sales tax that could generate about $4 million. Others include increasing property taxes, forming private partnerships or taking on long-term debt.
Last week, the issue was raised at the Council of Governments meeting with Coalville Mayor Trever Johnson, Kamas Mayor Lew Marchant and Oakley Mayor Wade Woolstenhulme. Fisher said while the County Council will ultimately decide which option to present to voters, the Council of Governments will be charged with determining how the revenues will be governed.
"The Council of Governments (COG) is more sensitive to regional planning as opposed to county planning," Fisher said. "We are looking at the COG as a way to provide a method of equity."
However, each mayor said it would be difficult to justify imposing a tax on their citizens when the cities’ needs are already difficult to meet.
"I’m concerned more about the maintenance of my own roads, especially when you are talking about connectivity," Marchant said. "The cities are suffering because the municipalities aren’t able to support and maintain their own infrastructure."
Oakley Mayor Wade Woolstenhulme said he worries any time a tax increase is proposed. He said he understands the need to address future growth and the impacts it could have on traffic in the area. However, he doesn’t envision South Summit experiencing the same level of growth as Park City and the Snyderville Basin.
"They are trying to be proactive about addressing the growth, but I think we are trying to postpone it. If you make transit more accessible over here then you may have more growth," Woolstenhulme said. "People come to the community because they like it. They like the small-town community and we are trying to put things in place to keep it that way.
"It’s a double-edged sword and I don’t know if there is a correct answer," he said. "I know some things need to happen, but I’m not big about jumping into it right away and raising everyone’s taxes. I don’t think we have changed our minds about supporting that."
Some of the projects that could be funded with the additional revenue include expanding transit service into South Summit, a fixed guideway, such as a lightrail, and capacity improvements for roads and intersections primarily in the Snyderville Basin.
"We have a transit system that is jointly funded and governed by Park City and the County and even though it only serves the Basin and Park City we know there is interest in extending it to the rest of the county," Fisher said. "If we gain that revenue, we could start to expand our transit out to Kamas.
"Within the municipalities there may also be an argument for the county to establish some type of program that helps them with maintenance or larger projects. All of those issues could be addressed as we continue talking within our committee," Fisher said.
If county officials want to pursue the funding options that are available, they have to adhere to a specific timeline regarding public hearings and adoption of ballot resolutions in order to allow the public to weigh in. The subcommittee is tentatively scheduled to reconvene before their respective councils sometime in June.
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.