Tom Clyde: Property tax bills are a sure sign of fall
The potguts have hibernated and leaves are changing. Fall is here. I’m still working through the “to do” list for June. It’s stayed so green this summer that it’s hard to believe fall is upon us. Suddenly conversations have turned to skiing—gear, passes, parking strategies, and so on. If the City and ski resorts did anything to fix the parking, they’ve kept it a deep secret. The additional distance to Snow Basin is almost offset by the traffic jam in Park City. Maybe Snow Basin will have its own Epic parking problems. More importantly, will we have another snow year like last winter, or does it swing back the other way and be as dry as the year before? There are all kinds of theories.
Another sure sign of fall is the arrival of the property tax notices. The statement is a complicated piece of work, an a la carte menu of different jurisdictions. It will vary by neighborhood depending on the particular boundaries of the jurisdictions your house is in. On my house, the total bill is going up by less than $50. I can live with that. But it gets interesting when you comb through the specifics.
The biggest items on the tax bill are schools. Forty-seven percent of the total goes to the South Summit School District. Another 20% goes to the state uniform school fund. Then just for good measure, $3.39 goes to the state Charter School fund. That’s identical to the amount charged for mosquito abatement. There’s no doubt in my mind that mosquito abatement is a far better use of that money. If the South Summit School District is successful with their bond election in November, the percentage going to education will be even bigger. Wasatch County is also looking for a $150 million school bond.
That’s a lot to educate somebody else’s kids. Somebody else paid for my education, and there’s some obligation to pay it forward, though I wouldn’t bet on either the South Summit or Wasatch school bonds passing. I also expect the students to graduate and get jobs good enough to fully fund my Social Security benefits.
The historical reasons for Summit County having three school districts (with 3 bus garages, 3 superintendents’ salaries, 3 district office buildings, and so on) have vanished. The current district boundaries are stupid. The kids who will live in Silver Creek Village will drive past the Park City schools to attend school in Kamas, until Kamas voters agree to tax themselves to build schools in Silver Creek Village. Which won’t happen.
The shocker in the tax bill was the South Summit Fire District. The taxes for the fire district went up 140%, nearly tripled, if my public school math still works. That seems like an outrage, though it hasn’t changed since Smokey Bear was a cub. The cost of a new fire truck has increased substantially since the horse-drawn era. It was long overdue. In the end, when I look at it, a 140% increase on next to nothing is still pretty close to nothing. Even with the new funding, if my house catches on fire, they still can’t get here in time to do anything about it and there are no hydrants even if a new fire truck was garaged next door. There’s some comfort knowing that they will cool the ashes with a shiny new truck.
The volunteers, on the other hand, get called out about five times as often as they used to as the area has grown. Just cleaning up the weekly motorcycle wrecks on Wolf Creek Pass has to have added to their costs and time commitments. What started as an interesting (and much appreciated) way to serve the community has, for many of them, turned into a disruptive part time job that interferes with their real jobs. So paying them seems reasonable.
There are assessments for general County government, and another for “municipal services.” If I receive any municipal services from the County, I don’t know what they are. I plow my own snow, and run our own water system. I’d actually pay more into that fund if it included picking up the deer carcasses that line the highway more often. Maybe we need a “Roadkill Abatement” district with its own $3.39 levy. I’d much prefer to put it there than on Charter Schools.
It costs as much to collect the property tax as it does to operate the Cemetery District. The Cemetery isn’t exactly “open space,” but it’s not a new subdivision, either. So while I hope that when my time comes, I get parted-out like an old tractor and scraps burned, I guess I don’t object to paying for the cemetery.
You should pay attention. A little here and a little there finally begins to add up. Are you getting your $3.39 worth of Mosquito Abatement?
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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With subpar snow coupled with the pandemic, it’s been a slog of a winter. So when columnist Amy Roberts got the opportunity to go heli-skiing, the words “when” and “yes” fell out of her mouth simultaneously.