Summit County and residents should back a proactive budget
The Park Record editorial, Oct. 4-6, 2017
The toughest challenge elected officials in any jurisdiction must face is how to set a budget that ensures essential services without placing an undue tax burden on residents and businesses. It sounds straightforward but gets a lot more complicated when you introduce factors like conflicting priorities and politics.
The Summit County Council is facing that dilemma right now and is asking residents for advice. After decades of dodging a property tax increase, council members are considering a rate hike.
According to the county manager, projected tax revenues for 2018 will not be enough to cover current service levels. And, since the county is required by state law to adopt a balanced budget, officials must either trim the budgets for services like public health, law enforcement, trash collection and road maintenance or raise the tax rate.
Neither option will increase the politicians’ approval ratings – unless citizens join them in making those hard decisions.
In order to maintain current service levels and to shore up the fund balances (i.e. those used for capital projects and as a hedge against dips in the economy) the county staff is recommending a 5.5 to 7 percent increase in property taxes. For homeowners who live in one of the county’s six towns or cities, it would amount to about $19.50 a year per $100,000 of taxable value. For those in unincorporated areas like the Snyderville Basin that rely on the county for municipal services, it would cost $34.90 per $100,000.
Given the county’s average home price of $690,000, that’s a substantial hike: $134 for city dwellers and $240 for those in the hinterlands. And even though county taxes amount to only 15 percent of resident’s total tax bill, when added to other increases generated by open space and school district bonds, inflation, the cost of living and rising property values, it is no wonder taxpayers are getting weary.
But consider this: The county has the lowest general tax rate in the state, it has not ever raised the general fund property tax and has the state’s lowest municipal tax rate. Also, at citizens’ urging – the council has embarked on a number of new initiatives including access to mental health services, expanding public transit, supporting affordable housing and practicing environmental sustainability.
Over the next two months, council members must decide whether to take the politically expedient route by scaling back on services and retreating from their worthy new goals or take the more responsible path by enacting a carefully considered tax increase, one that reflects a proactive plan for the future and adequate funds to protect citizens from the unforeseen.
The county will hold a public information session about the proposed budget increase on Oct. 11 and two public hearings in December. For more details about the proposed tax increase and the hearings go to this website.
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Our view: According to the Census Bureau, nearly 10 percent of Summit County children lack health insurance. We must change that.