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Tax hike petitioner alleges bullying

Jacqueline Smith, who is collecting signatures to put a pair of taxes on the 2014 ballot, is alleging that Summit County officials are bullying petitioners and employees who may want to sign the petition.

The county says otherwise.

The group is paying volunteers $50 for collecting each packet of signatures.

"This is standard procedure for petition-collecting, to pay people to gather signatures. It helps people who want to do it to have a monetary return on their time," said Smith who lives in Coalville and is a member of the S.T.A.R. forum.

Some of the mothers who are collecting signatures have expressed a desire to donate their $50 to their children’s drill team.

As a result, Smith alleges, at one point her volunteers were called by the county and told to cease and desist.

"I think it’s fine for people to be on either side of this issue, but we cannot begin to coerce people and bully them into not gathering signatures," Smith said. "I think that is a very sad state of affairs for our county offices to be involved in that type of activity."

She said they were asked by the county if the drill team did not like Summit County.

"But of course, that’s not the case," Smith said. "It has nothing to do with us not liking Summit County. I love Summit County. I live here. I just want to make sure we stay on a sustainable path and not strap our residents with more taxes, which ends up hurting growth and businesses that want to come to Summit County."

She also said she heard that some county employees were told they may lose their jobs if they sign the petition.

"They were told in a way that wasn’t illegal but it inferred that if your name is on the petition, don’t be surprised if it’s one of the names cut," Smith said.

County Clerk Kent Jones said there might have been a miscommunication.

Jones said the county received a call from a citizen concerned the volunteers were going to take the packets to the schools and pay the drill team for their signatures.

"Our response to that was they are treading a fine line there if they are buying signatures," Jones said. "But they can hire people to be petition gatherers. And if they want to donate the money that’s up to them."

Because they only got the one call alleging the petitioners were buying signatures, he said the county dismissed it, as it could have been a misunderstanding. But if they had received more calls, they would have looked into it further.

County Manager Bob Jasper said he did not call any of the volunteers, nor did anyone that works for him.

"And I just met with the department heads, and they didn’t call," Jasper said. "And no one told anyone from the county that they could sign or not sign. We would never tell anyone that you can’t sign a petition and you can’t participate in democracy."

Jasper did say if petitioners are successful in gathering enough signatures to freeze the tax rate, jobs will be cut, though the council hasn’t decided where or who will be cut.

"We would never tie it to them signing the petition," Jasper said. "We would tie it to the priority services the county has, what we can afford and what we are mandated to do by state law."

Jasper said he wouldn’t even know who signed the petition, and the county would not make cuts based on who signed the petition.

"We won’t in any way look at who signed the petition," Jasper said. "It will have nothing to do with it. Now, if our employees are saying, ‘If this passes, we’ll get cut,’ I think that’s true. But it won’t be related to who signs the petition. It will be related to the priority needs of the county."

But he did question the choice to pay petitioners to collect signatures. "It’s legal, but it tells you something. It’s not quite as grassroots."

Some believe that taxes can be cut and there will be no adverse effects, Jasper said. But the county has been cutting substantially for three years while trying to maintain the same levels of service.

And while they would like to operate ‘lean and mean,’ if they keep cutting, they will have to impact the services people get, and people like their services, Jasper said.

"This legislative initiative was aimed at unpopular laws, not to block a county budget," Jasper said. "It’s a small amount of people that get to decide for the entire county. Ten percent of the people get to decide for everybody. That’s not democratic."

The two taxes under fire are the Municipal Tax Fund, which will increase taxes $64 per year on a home assessed at $480,000 and the Service Area #6 tax, which will increase taxes $29 per year on a home assessed at $498,000.

The county is planning to reap $1,260,000 from the Municipal Tax Fund increase and $177,000 from the Service Area #6 increase.

The Municipal Tax Fund affects residents who live in unincorporated areas in Summit County, and the Service Area #6 tax affects residents who live within the Service Area #6 boundaries. The homes of some residents fall into both areas so those property owners will be hit by both tax increases.

If enough signatures are collected by Oct. 8, the two taxes will be frozen until they can be put to voters in the next general election in 2014. Smith says they have collected 1,500 of the required 2,115 signatures. The new tax rates, if not frozen, will appear on the November tax bills.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect the proper Municipal Tax Fund and Service Area #6 tax rates reported in a previous article.


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