It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Tooele County’s head honchos.
In between laying off 22 county employees and pitching an 82 percent tax hike, county commissioners sent a delegation of leaders to a mid-week conference in St. George. That pretty much symbolizes what Tooele County government is all about these days.
Next August, when county leaders try to sell this tax hike to voters during a truth in taxation hearing, they’ll say — just as the Tooele County School Board did earlier this year — that recent declines in revenue inevitably led them down this path.
Don’t fall for it.
On a personal level, each of us know that a dollar spent today is one we won’t have tomorrow. We understand that dipping into our rainy day funds to make a big purchase means, if rains come, we could be in trouble. And we all know that guy on the block who comes home with ATVs one week and waverunners the next, then goes around the neighborhood with his hand out when he falls on tough times.
A good way to think of the county’s proposed tax hike is to look backwards at projects already completed. When you drive by the new convention center at Desert Peak, think of your taxes being raised and ask how often you’ve either participated in an event there or reaped the economic rewards of a large group coming into town for a conference there. Then take another look at the Deseret Peak Complex as a whole. It runs at a deficit of well over a million dollars every year and used to have legions of county employees on its rolls before the layoffs, yet how many times have you personally enjoyed the chariot track, indoor rodeo arena, outdoor rodeo arena, horse stables or horseshoe pits?
Would you want your taxes raised to pay for the Emergency Operations Center? In 10 years, that empty facility will be about as relevant as the SPECTRE headquarters in a James Bond film. How about to pay for the new jail, which was built larger than actual needs based on wildly unrealistic predictions of revenue generated by housing federal prisoners?
The amount the county’s proposed tax is expected to generate is $2.6 million. That’s enough to possibly make businesses cut back and depress personal spending just as a gradual economic recovery is underway locally. It’s also, incidentally, only slightly more than the $2.3 million it cost to build the convention center, or the $2.5 million the county chipped in to pay for the EOC.
The county’s debt load has increased almost tenfold since the current county commissioners have been in office, from $3.3 million in long-term debt in 2006 to $31.4 million as of the end of 2011.
Commissioners will say all that borrowing and spending is just water under the bridge at this point — nothing to do with the currently proposed tax hike. We don’t agree. A spend-and-tax philosophy amounts to the same thing as a tax-and-spend one.
In this case, county leaders’ past performance is a pretty good indicator of our future returns.