Ever since the Tooele County Commission announced last October that it needed yet another tax increase to help pay for municipal services provided to unincorporated areas, continued budget talks have prompted varying degrees of incredulity.
The amazement and skepticism about the commissioners’ announcement wasn’t just because two months prior they had passed a $2.6 million tax increase — the first in 27 years — to help boost the county’s cash-strapped budget. What further deepened such feelings was this:
First, the commissioners’ proposed municipal services tax, included in the 2014 county budget, was “capped” at $1.5 million with little to no public say. Second, while setting the cap, the commissioners announced that an independent financial study would be done to determine how much the county actually spends to provide municipal services to areas like Rush Valley and Stansbury Park.
Data pulled from that study would then be used to set how much additional tax residents in unincorporated areas would have to pay for services such as law enforcement and roads. In an editorial last December, we questioned the logic of conducting the study after setting the cap. Shouldn’t the study be done first before asking a $150,000 homeowner to pay up to an additional $62 per year?
As promised by the commissioners, the financial study, conducted by Zions Bank Public Finance, has been completed as a draft. Perhaps surprisingly, initial results show the $1.5 million cap the commissioners set last December may not be enough. In fact, county officials underestimated the amount of money needed to provide municipal services in 2014 by nearly $600,000.
However, Zions Bank officials say that figure is expected to be lower because the study is a “work in progress.” Adjustments will be made as more information is obtained. A completed study is expected sometime next month before a truth in taxation hearing in June. The question now is, will there be enough adjustments to make the municipal services tax work as intended by the commissioners?
At three recent town hall meetings on the draft study, comments made by Zions Bank officials may put that intention into doubt. If the commissioners adopt the full $1.5 million tax increase in June, the county will still have to find nearly $600,000 in revenue in 2015 to balance the municipal services budget. In addition, those officials say, more funds will be needed to keep pace with inflation and capital needs.
Furthermore, bank officials indicate that county government must prepare for new growth, which will create more expenses and the need for more staff over the next five years. Also, larger budgets will be needed to improve or maintain county roads.
Since the study’s draft completion, town hall meetings have been held in Rush Valley, Stockton and Deseret Peak Complex. Another is scheduled for this Wednesday night in Stansbury Park, and the last one will be in Lake Point on May 15.
So far, citizen attendance at the three meetings has been low. Due to the proposed municipal service tax’s significant short- and long-term impact on citizens who live in unincorporated areas, the small attendance is surprising. With two town hall meetings left on the calendar, and the financial study to be finalized after May 15, citizens are encouraged to attend, learn and make their concerns known.