A crowd of taxpayers have told Tooele County Commissioners to keep their hands off federal money that has been historically directed to the county’s municipal services fund.
Furthermore, the crowd that attended Wednesday night’s town hall meeting at the Stansbury Park Clubhouse said they are not convinced that a Zions Bank study on municipal services provided by the county has accurately and fairly distributed related costs.
Aboutw 50 residents of unincorporated Tooele County showed up at the clubhouse for the fourth in a series of five town hall meetings conducted by Tooele County’s municipal fund consultant, Zions Bank Public Finance.
Mike Johnson, Stansbury resident and former Tooele City Council member, said the county’s financial problems are a county-wide problem that requires a county-wide fix — not a tax directed at strictly property owners in unincorporated Tooele County.
“You passed a tax increase last year that took care of part of the problem,” he said. “I don’t think it is fair for us to be subsidized by the cities, but before you do this, I want to make sure you look at everything else first.”
He added, “Look at PILT [Payment in Lieu of Taxes]. Make sure you are using those funds the way they were intended. Also look at impact fees and users fees before you do this. I’m not convinced by this presentation that we are a drain on the county budget.”
PILT is money paid to the county by the federal government to compensate for federal lands that do not pay property tax.
The 2014 county budget reversed a long time tradition of the county using part of the county’s federal PILT payment for municipal services, and instead placed the county’s entire $3.1 million in PILT funds in the county’s general fund.
Zions Bank Public Finance was hired by Tooele County in February to figure out exactly how much the county spends to provide services exclusively to unincorporated areas of the county.
The county is required by state code to pay for these services from the municipal services fund. Furthermore, state code does not allow the county to use countywide general property tax dollars to pay for the services.
Those services include law enforcement, animal control, dispatch, fire suppression, roads, economic development, weed control, planning and zoning, building inspection, and attorney costs along with direct and indirect administrative costs of human resources, information technology, auditor, clerk, treasurer, recorder and surveyor and county commission support.
In the 2014 county budget process, the county commissioners withdrew $322,677 in PILT fund revenue previously allocated to the municipal services fund. They also added $1.2 million in expenses to the municipal services fund, expanding expenses from $5.1 million in 2013 to $6.3 million for 2014.
The growth in expenses was due to an internal reevaluation of how expenses were split between the general and the municipal services fund.
County Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg explained during a budget hearing in 2013 why the municipal fund expenses were increased.
“Back when the county had plenty of money, we didn’t have to worry about tracking all of the municipal services expenses,” he said. “But with the decline in revenue, we now need to account for all of the municipal services provided to the unincorporated areas, and make sure that they are not paid by general fund revenue.”
The draft of the Zions Bank Public Finance study of Tooele County’s municipal services fund contains a proposal to allocate 25 percent of PILT money to the municipal services fund, starting in 2015. In the past the county has put as much as 43 percent of its PILT money into the municipal services fund.
County residents that attended the town hall meeting in Stansbury Park Wednesday night said they want PILT money restored to the municipal services budget in 2014, not 2015.
A 25 percent allocation of the anticipated 2014 PILT payment of $3.1 million, would add $775,000 of revenue to the municipal services fund. The maximum proposed revenue from the new municipal services tax is $1.5 million.
Matt McCarty of South Rim, was not satisfied with the 75/25 split of PILT funds.
“For the commission to take all or 75 percent of the PILT money is inconsistent with the purpose and intent of the funds, and is not consistent with what other counties have done,” he said.
One Stansbury Park resident came to Wednesday night’s meeting armed with a state audit report.
During the town hall meeting, Wade Hadlock, of Stansbury Park, referred to a 2010 audit completed by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General. The audit report supports the use of PILT to pay for municipal services, according to Hadlock.
“The audit took a look at four counties with a municipal services fund,” he said. “Each of these counties used PILT to pay for municipal services or roads, and the report concludes that this is an appropriate use of PILT.”
County residents that attended one of the three previous town hall meetings noticed that the Zions Bank presentation at the Stansbury Park meeting reduced the amount of expenses that they allocated to municipal services.
The total expenses that can be attributed to municipal services for 2014 is now estimated by Zions Bank at $6.32 million, down almost $670,000 from the $6.99 million in the first draft of the study presented at the Rush Valley town hall meeting on April 17.
The new figure exceeds the 2014 budget for municipal expenses by $20,000, instead of the previous gap of $597,419.
According to Tenille Tingey, financial analyst with Zions Bank Public Finance, the reduction came from subtracting expenses for roads that go to recreational areas along with major collector roads from the municipal fund budget. It also resulted from reallocating some benefits for retired employees that were charged to the municipal services fund to the general fund, and putting the majority of wild land fire suppression expenses into the general fund.
“We are listening at these town hall meetings and we have gone back and reevaluated some of our allocations based on your input,” said Tingey.
As Wednesday night’s town hall meeting came to a close, Bryan Coulter of Erda, made a passionate plea to county commissioners to let him keep more of his hard earned money so he can spend it to support local businesses.
“We aren’t a bunch of ATM’s,” he said. “There are impact fees and other fees you can charge. You can promote job creation and small business development. You can’t just keep raising taxes or making cuts.”
The next town hall meeting on the municipal services tax will be May 15 at the fire station in Lake Point.