Summit County leaders plan to keep a watchful eye on Utah’s 2018 legislative session
Summit County’s elected leaders and staff plan to keep a watchful eye on Utah’s 2018 legislative session and will be cautious of measures that could limit local control, according to Janna Young, Summit County’s director of intergovernmental affairs.
“We like to be able to have a say over how we handle our taxes, litigation, transportation projects and land uses,” she said. “Those are the issues we are most interested in.”
Utah’s legislative session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 22. But, the issues addressed during the interim session in 2017 provides a valuable indication of what to expect through March 8, Young said. The State Legislature meets monthly during the fall and summer in combined committee meetings with the members of the House of Representatives and State Senate to study issues before the start of the general session.
Tax reform was explored in depth during the interim session, with three different working groups focusing on income tax, sales tax distribution and property taxes. A proposal was recommended for distributing the sales tax based on population, Young said, as opposed to where purchases are made.
“That always hurts us so we prefer point of sale,” she said. “Summit County, in particular, is a feeder county in many ways to other counties that don’t have as much economic activity. That is why the population formula hurts us more. We already lose about $2 million from that. So our big message to the legislators was, ‘Please don’t monkey around with the formula.’”
Another matter that will be closely monitored deals with transportation issues. A Transportation Funding and Governance Task Force that was created during the 2017 session offered various recommendations and proposals over the last few months, Young said.
“I don’t quite know what the Legislature is going to do with those,” she said. “We didn’t really have any concerns, but we are obviously looking at any funding issues that will impact our projects.”
The gas tax, which generally funds road maintenance, is becoming antiquated because of alternative-fuel vehicles, Young said. As a result, it is sparking conversations about how to capture those funds in other ways. The way one proposed bill is structured, Young said, alternative-vehicle owners can pay a registration fee or opt into a road-usage program.
“The most prevalent idea is this concept of a road-user charge,” she said. “In Oregon they piloted this program where there is a device in your car that tracks the amount of miles traveled in the year, and then you are taxed based on that usage. It is an interesting concept that is picking up a lot of steam across the country. But, our constituents are concerned about plugging a device into their car that is reported to a third party.”
A recommended change for the election equipment used as part of a statewide system could prove to be a financial burden for the county if funding is not secured for the upgrade.
The software the state’s clerks currently use for conducting elections will no longer be supported, which requires counties to switch over to a new system. The replacement would cost between $10 and $12 million.
“The question we have now is how much funding is the state willing to put out for the new equipment?” said Kent Jones, Summit County clerk. “Before it was all federal funding, but now there is no federal money. The Clerk’s Association has asked and been promised that the state will come up with funding, but we are not positive how much that will be.”
Jone said he heard Gov. Gary Herbert was going to include about $4.5 million in his budget for the upgrade, adding “That’s what we are asking for and hoping for.”
“I’ve anticipated that we will have to come up with funding and I think it will be affordable if we can get an almost 50/50 match,” he said. “But, we haven’t ordered any equipment yet until we know what we are going to get.”
Transient Room Tax
The Utah Association of Counties is getting a lot of pressure from some counties to open up the statue for use of the Transient Room Tax funds, Young said. She said Summit County, in particular, could benefit from an expanded use of the funds.
Transient Room Tax funds may be utilized for establishing and promoting recreation, tourism, film production, and conventions. However, certain counties are able to use those funds for services such as solid waste and law enforcement if they increase because of tourism. Young said the county would “obviously be interested in any flexibility.”
“In our case, the Sundance Film Festival would be a great example of the added resources the Sheriff’s Office incurs because of tourism,” she said.
Young said there has been a lot of pushback about trying to open up those funds from those in the tourism industry out of fear that everyone would want to take advantage of the resources.
With hundreds of bills already filed during the interim session and many more anticipated after Jan. 22, elected leaders and staff will be cautiously wading through the measures to understand any potential impacts new legislation could have on the county’s operations.
“That’s why we are nervous because it is going to be fast and furious,” Young said.
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