Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

November 4, 2014
Surprise shifts

County commissions’ decision not to raise taxes or hire finance director shows they are listening 

The Tooele County Commission is known to make a surprise shift or reverse a decision, but two big ones in the same week — just days before the General Election — has turned some heads.

Ours included.

The first one has to do with everyone’s wallet. On Oct. 27, Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg announced the commission wouldn’t seek to increase the county’s general tax levy and the new municipal service tax next year. As reported in last Tuesday’s story, “Commissioners nix new tax increases in 2015,” the county’s top leaders said they will make next year’s budget work with current revenue.

“After meeting with department heads and reviewing their budget requests for 2015, we have been able to make revenue and expenses balance … without a tax increase,” said Clegg.

This is a reversal from what the commissioners did on Oct. 21 when they adopted two resolutions — as required by state law in an election year — to get the tax increase process underway if needed. The resolutions asked for a 5 percent increase to the general property tax levy, and a 9 percent increase to the municipal service tax.

Combined, the hikes would have generated almost $400,000. If the commissioners hadn’t nixed them, it would have been the third consecutive year of tax increases. The first was in 2013, followed earlier this year with the new municipal service tax. Last year’s tax hike was the first for the county in 27 years.

The commissioners’ reversed decision is significant. Although the commissioners said the tax increases may not be needed when they passed both resolutions, residents who clutched their purse strings didn’t overreact. The commissioners held steadfast against public criticism the last two times they mentioned tax increases.

Furthermore, on Oct. 21, Tooele County Treasurer Jeremy Walker declared that the county’s financial recovery was “complete” after a near budget meltdown in 2012 and 2013. Yet, it could be asked: Why did the commissioners need more money to balance the 2015 budget if the recovery was truly over?

The second big reversed decision also involves the wallet. When the commissioners adopted the tentative 2015 budget on Sept. 30, they announced plans to hire a director of finance to manage the county’s money. Salary and benefits were projected at more than $132,000. To say their announcement got few nods of agreement is an understatement. When the commissioners combined the county’s clerk and auditor offices last January, they claimed their decision would save over $180,000 a year.

Yet with a new finance director assuming the clerk/auditor’s duties of managing the county’s budget, the commissioners’ reason behind combining both offices no longer holds up. The proposed hire smacks of contradiction, and even prompts conjecture that their decision was made for reasons other than to save money.

But last Wednesday, Clegg announced that the commission had decided not to hire a finance director before Jan. 1. In last Thursday’s story, “County rescinds finance director position,” the commission chairman said, “…The new commission can take a look at it and decide what they want to do. That’s better than us making a decision for them.”

The commissioners are acknowledged for dropping tax increases in 2015 and not hiring a finance director. Their actions show they are listening, and have let go of the need to be right.

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