Tooele County officials underestimated the cost of providing city-like services to unincorporated areas of the county when they prepared the 2014 budget last fall.
That’s the preliminary conclusion of a department-by-department independent review of Tooele County by Zions Bank Public Finance.
The review has found $597,419 more in municipal expenses than were included in the current budget.
That gap may close as the study is revised following a series of town hall meetings now underway, according to Tenille Tingey, a financial analyst with Zions Bank Public Finance.
“It is a work in progress,” she said. “We will make some adjustments.”
Despite a draft report that shows the county’s total expenses for municipal-like services are closer to $6.9 million — than 2014’s budget of $6.3 million — the county commissioners’ current plan is to follow the 2014 budget.
That plan includes adopting a new $1.5 million tax for one-fourth of the county’s population that live in unincorporated Tooele County, and dropping Payment In Lieu of Taxes funding from municipal service revenue.
The plan also includes changes to expenses and increasing revenue in 2015.
Although this appears to be the direction the county is headed, Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne said there is plenty of time and opportunity to change course.
“I want to be careful about suggesting my mind is made up one way or the other right now, even though an adopted budget suggests as much,” he said. “The way I see it, there’s more than enough time for public input before the final finding [of the Zions Bank study] and more so after that until a formal adoption.”
The final draft of the Zions Bank study is due around a week after the last town hall meeting on May 15. The certified tax rate must be adopted in June, and the Truth In Taxation hearing for the new municipal services tax will be held in July, according to Milne.
The county commission may yet adopt, amend, or outright abandon the proposed municipal services tax based on the final draft of the Zions report, he added.
In 2015, after adopting the $1.5 million municipal services tax in 2014, the county will need to find an additional $597,419 in revenue to balance the municipal services budget. In addition, more funds will be needed to keep pace with inflation and capital needs, Tingey said.
At a town meeting in Stockton Tuesday night, one option reviewed by Tingey included a 9 percent increase in the municipal services tax for 2015 along with $775,000, or 25 percent, of Tooele County PILT funds. The option also allows the municipal services fund to keep pace with increased costs through new growth in the tax base instead of annual tax increases.
The Zions Bank study anticipates that keeping pace with requirements for road maintenance, inflation and population growth will drive municipal service expenses up from $8.2 million in 2015 to $9.4 million in 2019.
Municipal services provided by Tooele County to unincorporated areas include law enforcement, animal control, dispatch, fire suppression, roads, economic development, weed control, planning and zoning, building inspection, street lights, attorney fees and direct and indirect administrative costs of human resources, information technology, auditor, clerk, treasurer, recorder and surveyor and commission support.
State code does not allow the county to use countywide general property tax dollars to pay for these “city-like” services it provides to unincorporated areas of the county.
In the past, Tooele County has used fees, charges for services, a share of state motor vehicle fuel tax, a U.S. Forest Service payment for road maintenance, unincorporated area sales tax, and PILT to fund the services.
The 2014 budget eliminated PILT funding from the revenue mix and added a proposed $1.5 million property tax to be collected only from property owners in unincorporated areas of the county.
A third town hall meeting on the municipal services fund study will be held April 28 at Deseret Peak Complex at 7 p.m. The first meeting was held last Thursday night in Rush Valley. The second meeting was held Tuesday in Stockton.