‘Kind of broke,’ the county outlines issues
Summit County Manager Bob Jasper and recently elected Councilmembers Kim Carson and Roger Armstrong addressed a public seminar hosted by Leadership Park City on Wednesday, Feb. 13, touching on issues faced by the county, such as the budget and communication with the public.
"We’ve been kind of broke lately," Jasper told a crowd of about 60 people. "We’ve been cutting, cutting and cutting. And the council has said, maybe we need to look at our revenue. And it’s not just how much money, but who pays. So the council decided to raise the tax on Service Area #6. Residents in Service Area #6 are supposed to pay us money for maintaining their roads, snow removal, etc."
Jasper asked if it was fair for people inside the cities to pay a higher tax rate to subsidize municipal services outside the city boundaries.
After the council decided to increase the Service Area #6 tax, as well as the Municipal Fund tax, petitions circulated by community activists put the taxes on hold until citizens can vote on them in the 2014 general election.
"So that put a big crimp in our budget," he said.
Armstrong said that coming in as a new council member, he was most surprised by the budget.
Counties differ from cities in the budgeting process, Armstrong explained. While cities are only required to hold one Truth in Taxation hearing, counties are required to hold two.
"You have to have a second Truth in Taxation hearing in August," he said. "After that second Truth in Taxation hearing, the public has a period of time to circulate a petition to repeal the tax and put it on the ballot for a referendum. That’s a real challenge for the county. Theoretically you start spending for the budget that you set in January. And then as late as October, as is what happened in Summit County, the tax can be repealed and the county loses the money."
Armstrong said the county was consequently wrestling with a shortfall of $1.4 million.
"Do we have to lay off additional bodies? Do we have to cut services? And this is a county that prides itself on providing good services," he said. "So it’s a huge challenge, but we’re trying to get some adjustments on the legislative level to at least make that a more rigorous process."
Armstrong added that it’s easy for people to ignore issues they don’t see affecting them until a large issue arises.
"I think we can avoid a lot of those things by putting out more information to the public and by the public becoming engaged earlier," he said. "Typically, by the time something reaches a critical point where it blows up in front of the public and 400 people attend a public hearing, so much has happened, and it gets harder to turn the boat, then if people are involved and commenting on the process on a regular basis."
Carson added that the county is going to start being more proactive in disseminating information to the community.
"We’re really going to be working on bringing the county’s message, and what’s going on in the county, to our constituents," she said. "We’re looking at hiring a public information officer. And I think that will help us look at the website, other forms of communication and really try to get the information out to you in high quality and high quantity."
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Councilor Glenn Wright estimated that the ability to provide renewable energy sources for county power will cost the average Summit County resident $0.70 per year above current costs.