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Speak up on tax vs. services trade-offs

PR

During election season, candidates almost always proclaim they will not raise taxes. Once elected, though, they realize how difficult that promise is to keep. That is the predicament currently facing elected officials at two of the larger taxing entities in the area the Park City School District and Summit County.

For the last several years the Park City Board of Education members have taken pride in not levying the full amount of its locally approved voted leeway tax. Now, however, after difficult salary negotiations with the school teachers’ union and faced with rising construction costs on an ambitious high school remodeling project, the district admits that its financial fitness is faltering.

The Park City School District, which has set its sights on becoming one of the top districts in the nation, is not operating in the red but it has seen its contingency funds, which are intended for use in unexpected emergencies, shrink to uncomfortably low levels. Recently, with enrollment on the rise and state and federal assistance declining, the school board formed a committee to find ways to control the cash flow.

Perhaps, if some of the school board candidates, and/or state legislative candidates had been more candid about the full extent of the district’s and the state’s education funding challenges with voters they would have found support for modest tax increases that would have helped to avoid the current budget squeeze.

Similarly, the Summit County Commission is now trying to pare down budget requests from all of its department heads. Many of the requests, including those from the public safety sector are justified.

This editorial is not intended to suggest that elected officials should be released from their campaign pledges, nor do we advocate unbridled government spending. We do, however, want to underscore that residents cannot demand higher levels of municipal-type services for their communities and improved educational opportunities for their children without being willing to pay more for them.

We would all be better off if candidates laid out realistic funding strategies, including raising taxes when needed, as part of their platforms. Voters too need to understand that a knee-jerk reaction to justifiable tax increases will likely come back to haunt them in the form of lower service levels, inferior personnel, lower bond ratings and more debt down the road.

The Summit County Commission is currently in the throes of setting next year’s budget. Some of the toughest decisions pertain to funding for additional sheriff’s deputies, for road realignments in the Kimball Junction area to improve traffic flow, for expansion of the justice center and for increases in the building, planning, clerk and public works departments.

It is up to voters to tell their commissioners whether they want to hold the line on taxes or whether they are willing to pay for some increases in services. The public hearing for the 2007 Summit County budget is Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Summit County Courthouse in Coalville, located at 60 North Main. Be there or be sure to call your commissioners Ken Woolstenhulme, Sally Elliott and Bob Richer to tell them where you stand.


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