Tax hike takes top billing at County Courthouse meeting | ParkRecord.com

Tax hike takes top billing at County Courthouse meeting

Summit County residents were given their formal first opportunity on Wednesday to comment on the proposed property tax increase the Summit County Council is currently mulling over as part of the 2018 budget process.

More than 30 people attended the first of two public hearings on Wednesday about the proposed property tax hike and suggested budget for 2018. Several people provided input about the 27 percent property tax revenue increase during the nearly two-hour hearing. The hike equates to about a 5.5 to 7 percent bump on the average property tax bill for primary residents in the county.

Comments were split about the county potentially implementing its first property tax increase in nearly 30 years, with some people offering their support of the hike and others strongly urging the Council to reconsider. Staffers are recommending a $3 million and $1.1 million increase in the general and municipal services funds, respectively. The municipal services fund was raised in 2013.

Sally Elliot, a former Park City and Summit County Council member, offered her support to the County Council and staffers. She said she believes elected officials have stretched the county's resources as far as they can without increasing property taxes and now it's time.

"No one wants growth," she said during the meeting. "So that means your revenues remain flat. …Things have not always been so posh in Summit County so please go forward with an increase so we can continue to have the high level of service we are accustomed to."

County staffers and Summit County Manager Tom Fisher originally suggested the increase to avoid drastic cuts to the county's services and programs. Matt Leavitt, Summit County's finance officer, said during the meeting that property taxes allow the county to provide higher levels of services that the "citizens of the county have come to expect."

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But, he said the county's current revenues from property taxes are not sufficient to meet essential and growing community needs.

"We have an additional population that requires services, and you have to increase your budget annually to provide those services," he said.

Paul Sampson, a Francis resident, countered Leavitt's argument with his comment that not all of the county's residents want a high level of services.

"I would like to urge you to vote against the property tax increase," he said to the Council during the meeting. "You mentioned the high level of services, but we don't all expect that. Not all of us expect posh services when some of us are struggling just to pay the bills sometimes. I urge you, please vote against it."

Another resident, Jennifer Castelli, said, "Look at what we have gotten in 27 years without a tax increase. You have done great. Look at all we have. Let's keep that up and not raise taxes."

Jean Schmidt, who identified herself as retired, expressed her concerns about the effects of the increase on those who are on a fixed income, like herself.

"I really am going to have to be careful about my expenses," she said. "I have a nice reservoir of money to work with and am, in ways, more fortunate than those who come here as middle-class citizens. I want to just talk about the reality of normal people and this is tough and it's going to get tough."

While several questioned the need for a tax increase and whether the Council had considered making the necessary cuts to avoid it, others were more supportive of what it will allow the county to contribute to in terms of new programs and services.

Katie Wright, executive director of the Park City Community Foundation, urged the Council to seriously consider implementing the new tax rates. Park City Community Foundation is one of the organizations that has been instrumental in the community's effort to address the availability of mental health and substance abuse services.

As part of the 2018 budget, the Council included a $140,000 contribution toward the county's mental health program and partnerships. Staff has said that contribution may not be possible without a tax hike.

"We have been incredibly proud of the progress and work of our partners throughout this process," Wright said. "We are thankful for the work by the members of Council. I am here to encourage Council to consider all possible avenues to help fund part of the Mental Health Alliance."

After taking comments for nearly an hour, the County Council agreed to continue the hearing until the Dec. 13 meeting at the County Courthouse in Coalville. A decision will likely be made at the meeting regarding the budget and proposed property tax increase.

County Council member Roger Armstrong said the Council is going to have to make a strategic decision next week.

"We wouldn't be able to do mental health and other projects without this increase," he said. "If we are going to reach our goals it will require funds to get there."

County Council member Doug Clyde said the county is still attempting to restore services and staff levels that were cut during the economic recession to meet prior commitments.

"We have already done some of that stretching of our budget and now we are having to backfill," he said. "We have stretched as long as we could and now we have to make up for it."

To view the staff report and presentation that was prepared in anticipation of the hearing, go to http://summitcounty.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_12062017-1442?html=true.