Four non-county employees showed up Tuesday night for a Tooele County Commission meeting with an agenda that included a discussion of a potential property tax increase.
“As we begin looking at our budget for 2018, departments have submitted budgets with things that they deem as necessary that would require an 82-percent property tax increase,” said Tooele County Commission Chairman Wade Bitner. “But I’m not going to propose an 82-percent increase.”
Bitner read through a list of requested new budget items. The list included $300,000 for an engineer and two planners to split community development out of the recorder’s office. Two road projects — $1 million for a Droubay Road to state Route 36 parkway, and another $1 million for a Pole Canyon Road to SR-36 upgrade — were on the list.
Also on the list was $450,000 for new voting machines; $250,000 to boost sheriff deputy salaries to make Tooele County competitive with other counties in the state; $200,000 for the sheriff’s department for body camera data storage; another $200,000 for public safety information technology; and $784,000 to cover a 1.9 percent cost of living adjustment, a small merit increase, and a 5 percent increase in health benefit costs for county employees.
“That adds up to $4,184,000,” Bitner said. “So what do I do? We need the voting machines to vote. Do I tell the sheriff he doesn’t get what he needs?”
Commissioner Myron Bateman said part of the problem in being required to approve a budget for 2018 in December 2017 is that the commission won’t know how much revenue property tax will generate until June 2018.
“Last year, we thought we would need a 9-percent increase,” Bateman said. “But when everything was done, it turned out because of new growth we didn’t need an increase.”
The county has to predict and approve any potential property tax increase for 2018 before the end of 2017, Bateman said.
“We need to prioritize our spending,” he said. “We also need to adjust for inflation.”
Commissioner Shawn Milne said he learned after taking office that property tax doesn’t adjust for inflation.
“The way to increase property tax without a rate increase is through new growth,” Milne said. “And the growth really needs to be in new business, not residential.”
Bitner referred to the municipal services property tax study completed for the county by Zions Bank Public Finance in 2013 that predicted the county would need to raise the municipal services tax by 5 percent for five years.
“The theory is that it is better to raise taxes a little at a time instead of by 62 percent in one year like other counties in Utah have,” he said.
Milne said he recalled hearing at several public meetings that people wanted small increases over time instead of large increases.
Bitner said the commission will look at dollar amounts of revenue and possible percentage increases needed for property tax at its Oct. 17 meeting.
“Every 1 percent of increase equals about $55,000 in revenue,” he said.