Guest editorial: Rather than taxing people who can’t afford it, Basin Rec needs to think creatively
Frederic Bastiat was a French economist who made many observations about government and society including one of his most famous quotes, “The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.”
This insight was on full display at the Summit County Council meeting Dec. 4 when the proposed 72% increase in the Basin Recreation taxes was advocated by both the director and the administrator of Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District. This is one of a dozen taxing authorities in Summit County, all of which have asked for and received massive increases in taxes over the years.
For long-term residents, depending on how their property values have increased, this has resulted in tax payments that have gone up over 500% without any improvements to their property.
Several of the older citizens commented on the fact that their Social Security incomes, which they had paid for all of their lives, would increase less than 2% next year. The Basin Rec increase would heartlessly take all of that, and more. But they are really just disposable when compared to the need to add more trails even if they had lived in Park City all their lives according to the district administrator. I don’t know all of the long-term residents who have been forced to sell their homes and totally disrupt their lives because they could no longer afford living in the community they were born and raised in, but I know there are too many.
Some of the increase was a result of the county buying thousands of acres of land at a cost of many millions of dollars and the debt service for that land. The taxpayers voted for these acquisitions, but they approved them without any real explanation of the enormity of the many millions of additional annual expenses that acquiring this open land would entail.
Part of the justification for the 72% increase in the Basin Rec taxes was the development of this newly acquired “open space” by building 90 more miles of trails (to a total of 170 miles) dog parks, pickleball and other parks. I suspect that less than half of the residents have ever used the expanded trails.
This “open space” will require millions of dollars of tax money every year to provide weed control, forest health, fire mitigation, adding more trails and other expenses.
Several of the citizens who provided input to the council noted that all of these “improvements” to the open space are utilized by an unknown number of people who are not taxpayers in Summit County. There was a lot of discussion about how the trails can really be considered an attractive nuisance, with thousands of people arriving every year in highly polluting vans from Salt Lake City to park at trailheads and dump up to 10 bikers at a time who ride for free. This has reduced the quality of life of the residents at the trailheads. Tons of dog excrement are deposited every year along these trails and the watersheds feeding into the water supply if some of those amazing public-minded county residents who commented on their experiences of filling up untold numbers of grocery bags of dog excrement are to be believed. All because the district failed to enforce their trail rules.
Perhaps it is time for the very highly paid people who manage Basin Rec, the equally highly paid county management staff, and the County Council to rethink how they manage the responsibilities delegated to them by the taxpayers. There were many suggestions about other revenue sources to fund the Basin Rec district, many of them costly and impractical. Several of them worth a try. The staff should be directed to think creatively and not just rely on property taxes.
Maybe just going back to the suggestion of Melvin Flinders, an 80-year resident of Summit County, and long-time contributor to the community, including public service in county government who closed up the public comments by suggesting, in Bastiat fashion, that the people who use the trails and rec center pay for them and not shift the tax burden to those who do not use them but are forced to pay just because they own property in the Basin district.
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“[I]t looks like we’ll be stuck with a blighted building … on the gateway road into our otherwise scenic resort town,” writes Beth in a guest editorial. But, she argues, it doesn’t have to be that way.