When it comes to possibly raising taxes next year, the Tooele County Commission doesn’t have to guess how some local citizens feel about it.
For the second time in less than a month, the commissioners held a public hearing Tuesday night to take comment on three proposed tax increases, which if adopted in December when the county’s 2017 budget is finalized, won’t take effect until November 2017.
The commissioners are proposing an 8.67-percent increase to the combined county general and health department fund property taxes, and a 9-percent increase to the municipal services property tax.
While nine county department heads spoke at the hearing in support of the increases to help pay for needed services or improvements, nearly a dozen citizens told the commissioners they can’t take another tax hike. Some also complained the county has over-assessed their properties, which makes another increase even more unbearable.
“How do you expect us to pay these taxes when we live on a fixed income?” said Lester Higley of Grantsville. “We don’t get a pay raise.”
Linda Andersen of Grantsville said, “As I drive to and from Salt Lake every day, and see all the houses in Stansbury, all the new building, there’s a much larger tax base. I wonder why that doesn’t assuage some of the difficulties and help offset some of these costs.”
Andersen also said she has issues with how the county assesses properties. She recently sold an acre of land listed at $65,000 for over a year. She finally sold it for $55,000 with a water share.
“And you [the county] valued it at $80,000,” Andersen said. “And other people have had their house, and our house, valued much higher than it is.”
Raymond Dixon of Tooele said, “When you proposed a month ago to raise our taxes, you gave a company a 13-year tax break.” He was referring to mattress and pillow company Purple that just opened a plant on Sheep Lane (see related front-page story).
“…We give all these big companies tax breaks, to get them here — and then we have to pay,” he added. “I don’t think it’s fair. If these multi-million and multi-billion dollar companies want to come here, make them pay their share. I can see a tax break or something, but 13 years?”
The nine county department heads who spoke at the hearing included Mark McKendrick for facilities management, county treasurer Mike Jensen, deputy county attorney Gary Searle, children’s justice center director Rachael Cowan, health department director Jeff Coombs, landfill manager Robert Warner, surveyor/recorder Jerry Houghton and Sheriff Paul Wimmer.
Commission chairman Wade Bitner spoke about the county roads department for director Rod Thompson, who was absent.
Department heads’ combined requests for the 2017 county budget total $28.6 million, which is almost a $3.3 million increase over 2016’s current budget. Last month the commissioners limited any 2017 property tax increase for general operations, including the health department tax, to 8.7 percent for an additional $495,851.
Despite that additional tax revenue, the commissioners will need to cut about $2.5 million to balance the proposed 2017 budget.
During the hearing, some of the citizens offered support for Sheriff Wimmer’s request for an additional $450,000 to help create more pay parity and stem the tide of officers being hired away to Salt Lake.
Some also expressed support for Cowan’s $387,000 matching funds request to help pay for a new Tooele County Children’s Justice Center. The CJC has won a matching Community Development Block Grant for a new facility and just needs matching funds from the county to proceed.
After department heads spoke, Tenille Tingey, Tooele County deputy clerk/auditor, gave a Powerpoint recap that outlined department requests and each proposed tax increase. Commission Chairman Wade Bitner explained Tingey’s presentation was provided because the commission was criticized for not showing “the facts and figures first” about the proposed tax increases before last month’s public hearing.
Figures show the proposed 8.67-percent increase to the combined county general and health department fund property taxes on a $200,000 residence would change from $179 to $194, or an additional $15 per year. The property tax on a $200,000 business would change from $325 to $353, or $28 per year.
The county general and health department fund property taxes are paid by the owners of all property in the county.
The proposed 9-percent increase to the municipal services property tax would raise the annual property tax on a $200,000 residence from $89 to $97, or $8 per year. For a $200,000 business the increase would be from $163 to $177, or $15 per year.
The municipal services property tax is only collected from parcels in unincorporated areas of the county. It is in addition to the countywide general and health department fund taxes.
If the county adopts the combined general and health department potential property tax increase, it will be the third tax increase in the last five years. If the proposed municipal services tax increase is approved, it will be the second increase since the tax was adopted three years ago.
At town hall meetings in 2013 during the county’s financial crisis, some citizens urged the commissioners that if tax increases are needed, to make them smaller and more frequent than to wait years and hit taxpayers with a huge tax hike.