The Park Record editorial, January 2-5, 2010
The Summit County Council is contemplating paying a couple caught cheating on their property taxes to turn in others who, they say, are guilty of the same offense. The Park City pair admits to claiming a primary-residence tax deduction on a property they were renting out as a nightly unit.
In Utah, homeowners pay taxes based on 55 percent of the assessed valuation of their primary residence. Properties used as second homes or for commercial purposes are taxed on 100 percent of their value.
The law itself is controversial. The original intent was to shift some of the tax burden off ordinary citizens and onto those who could afford second homes. But vacation homeowners regularly challenge the higher tax rate, claiming it is discriminatory.
The debate heats up every year when the Legislature is in session and someday may be overturned. But as long as the law is in effect, the county should take a hard line on enforcing it.
The notion of paying proven offenders to squeal on their neighbors, however, is distasteful for many reasons.
First of all, rewarding a lawbreaker with a county contract sets a terrible precedent. In fact, their record should make them ineligible to participate in any business with the county government.
Secondly, since this couple’s honesty is already in question, why would officials trust them to fairly and evenly evaluate others? It seems the county would have to expend a lot of energy ensuring the pair wasn’t targeting particular individuals for punishment or conspiring with others to help them evade the higher tax.
Plus, philosophically, the county should not be in the business of hiring neighbors to spy on neighbors. It’s just plain creepy.
Instead, the county should consider hiring an enforcement officer to ensure that this and other tax and land-use laws are followed.
Local police and sheriff’s deputies already have their hands full handling public-safety issues. But there is still a need for new personnel to oversee a myriad of other county rules, including tax, land development, zoning and environmental regulations.
We would admonish the council not to go forward with the contract for ferreting out property tax exemption abusers, but to begin crafting a broader job description that would solve this and other enforcement issues.
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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.