Eastern Summit County mayors hesitant to support proposed tax hike
Eastern Summit County mayors told members of the Summit County Council that they are hesitant to support a proposed tax hike, despite the potential revenue the increase could bring in for their cities.
County Councilors met with the mayors during a Council of Government meeting on Monday to discuss the local option sales tax the Council is considering imposing to fund transportation-related projects.
Coalville Mayor Trever Johnson said in an interview on Wednesday it feels like the state is trying to pass the burden of securing money for transportation to the counties. He added, “I just don’t like how it is packaged.”
“On paper it looks good, but it’s the timing of it,” he said. “If every county participates, Coalville could see about $22,000. But, I can find better and easier ways of securing that money than pushing this tax through. I am not excited about it. I would vote ‘no.’”
County staffers first met with Councilors about the ability to impose a new sales tax for transit in May, while also discussing changes that the Utah Legislature made to local option sales taxes for transportation. The Council is not required to seek voter input to implement the new taxes.
Staffers strongly encouraged the elected officials to consider imposing the 0.25 percent transportation infrastructure tax before June 30. The county may impose the 0.20 percent tax for transit capital expenses beginning in July of 2019.
The 0.25 percent transportation infrastructure tax would amount to about a $45 annual increase for residents, with that number varying for visitors. The taxes would not apply to unprepared food items or gas. The increase would amount to four cents for every $100 spent.
If the County Council implements it before July 1, the county would get to keep 100 percent of the revenues generated until June 30, 2019, or about $3.6 million. After that, the municipalities would receive a little more than $2.6 million annually, with Park City taking the largest chunk — $2.4 million.
Some of the mayors are suggesting the County Council wait to see whether other larger counties, are participating. If none of the other counties opt in, Summit County could lose revenue to smaller counties. Salt Lake County announced earlier this week it would be moving forward with implementation of the tax.
“Initially I said I would say ‘yes’ if all the counties join and decide to levy it,” said Oakley Mayor Wade Woolstenhulme.
Woolstenhulme said Oakley could receive around $18,000 for road maintenance, which is about 20 percent of the city’s budget earmarked for infrastructure.
“I can see the benefits, but I am very skeptical,” he said. “Personally, I would pay for it because I would understand it. But, the regular Joe or the elderly lady that is on a fixed income may not. I don’t think it would really hurt them or is really that devastating, but there are a lot of things going on.”
Woolstenhulme referred to the two sales tax initiatives that voters approved in 2016 to fund transportation, as well as a potential bond election in 2019 for the South Summit School District.
“If none of the big counties do it, it would make us one of the big dogs and we are not going to get a lot,” he said. “What we told the commissioners was to wait and see what the other counties do before we make a final decision.”
Henefer Mayor Kay Richins echoed Woolstenhulme’s concerns. He said his constituents strongly support delaying a decision.
“That’s the way we all feel as well. We want to wait,” he said.
Kamas Mayor Matt McCormick said the June 30 deadline does not provide the counties or cities with enough time to properly educate the public about the matter.
“When you don’t educate people, that’s when you could have some problems,” he said. “Yes, I think it has merit, but I also have concerns. It’s another tax and it seems like every year for the last few years there has been some sort of tax increase.
“If everyone participates and the county can get that answer in the last hour like they are hoping to do, then I think it has a benefit,” he said. “But, if everyone does not participate I don’t think we should step in.”
Roger Armstrong, County Council vice-chair, said the mayors’ concerns are similar to those of the Council. He added, “They understand the benefits that each city will receive, but it’s all about the timing of this.”
“We got the strong suggestion that we take a hard look at what the other counties will do,” he said on Wednesday.
The County Council is expected to meet with the Oakley, Coalville and Park City councils in the coming days to discuss the tax option. It is unclear if the County Council will discuss the issue at its upcoming meeting on June 27 or whether a decision will be made.
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Summit County officials declared their potential conflicts of interest, with Councilors Doug Clyde and Chris Robinson offering the most extensive lists on the County Council.