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Utah County residents upset over proposed property tax increase

Many Utah County residents took to social media to express frustration when they received a postcard this week notifying them that a portion of their property taxes could double next year, something that was proposed during a Utah County Commission 2020 budget discussion earlier this month.

The proposal, if passed, would increase tax revenue for the county’s general fund, which makes up 6.8% of the county’s total property tax distribution, by $28.6 million.

As of the Oct. 8 discussion, the county’s 2020 baseline budget is out of balance by $10.5 million, not including capital expenditures.

Revenues from the general levy fund public safety and welfare, as well as government services and the justice system. The majority of property tax revenues, over 70%, fund the county’s school districts and would not be increased by this proposal.

Additional funds to address “critical deficiencies in essential services” were requested from various county departments, including $3.5 million from the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, $3 million from the Department of Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Treatment and $2 million from the Utah County Attorney’s Office.

The commission voted last year against increasing property taxes and instead opted to dip into county reserves.

But a true structurally-balanced budget, according to the Government Finance Officers Association, “is one that supports financial sustainability for multiple years into the future” instead of relying on reserve funds.

Here’s an example of how the property taxes in Utah County work: If a house is valued at $334,000, 55% percent of this value is taxed after accounting for homeowner tax exemptions. The Utah County general levy gets 6.8% percent of the $1,989 total property tax, which comes out to $123.45 in revenue annually.

This number would double under the commission’s proposal, meaning the homeowner in this scenario would receive an annual bill of $246.90.

Residents expressed frustration on social media over the proposed 100% increase which, to many, came as a surprise that lacked community input.

“Our personal budgets are getting completely blown,” wrote a member of the Facebook group Provo Forward. “How in the world do they think the citizens can keep up with this?”

“Getting expensive to live in Provo,” wrote another group member.

Josh Daniels of the clerk/auditor’s office noted in the Oct. 8 meeting that Utah County currently has the lowest general fund property tax rate of any urban county along the Wasatch Front. Even if the general fund tax doubled, as proposed, the Utah County rate would still be lower than those of Salt Lake, Weber and Davis counties.

Property taxes paid by Utah County residents have not kept up with inflation, according to Daniels. In 1998, a traditional single-family homeowner in Provo paid about $74 in property taxes to the general fund. Today, they pay about $96 which, after adjusting for inflation, is a 30% decrease.

When a home’s property value assessment increases, the property tax rate automatically decreases so that the owner pays the same nominal amount they did the previous year, which is why Utah County residents have not seen their rates increase.

Commissioners Bill Lee and Commissioner Tanner Ainge sparred over how the county should reconcile increasing expenditures and revenue shortages.

“I’m not seeing any other path,” Ainge said in support of the property tax increase. Ainge continued to say that “cuts alone are not going to fund” the 2020 budget, adding that between $10 million and $12 million in cuts would be needed.

“Well I have a completely different take on it,” Lee said.

He continued to see that he didn’t “really have an appetite for balancing the county budget on the backs of the taxpayers” without first looking for programs to cut, holding departments accountable for expenditures and verifying the clerk/auditor’s projection numbers.

Ainge rebutted that Lee was being “purely political” and “ignoring math and … basic economic principles.”

“Before we even set a (property tax increase) number, you said you were against it,” said Ainge. “What I want to see (from Lee) is a good-faith effort to actually balance our budget … and so far I have not seen that.”

Commissioner Nathan Ivie expressed support for a property tax increase and called it essential for keeping up with the county’s rapid growth. It is a difficult decision, Ivie said, but one that he feels “is very fiscally responsible and, in the long-term, in the best interest of the citizens of this county.”

Ainge, who joined the commission in January, said the county cannot continue “kicking the can down the road” when it comes to balancing the budget.

“You’ve had five years to address budget issues in Utah County,” Ainge said to Lee. “I don’t know what you’re waiting for.”

A public hearing to discuss the proposed property tax increase will be held on at 6 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Utah County Administration Building.

Tyson Foods breaks ground in Eagle Mountain

Tyson Foods officially broke ground on a cold Tuesday morning in Eagle Mountain. Huddled inside a tent from freezing temperatures, city officials and Tyson Foods representatives celebrated the historic occasion.

Tyson Foods first announced it would be coming to Utah and Eagle Mountain earlier this summer. Aaron Sanborn, the economic development director with Eagle Mountain, said the city has been very excited about the opening, and has been working “hand in hand” with Tyson Foods to plan the facility and infrastructure development.

According to Tyson Foods officials, the $300 million project will create 800 jobs, adding an additional 400 jobs in three years, having an estimated $1 billion of economic impact in the first decade. The facility will be completed at the end of the year 2020, set to begin operations in fall 2021.

Sanborn said another unexpected result Tyson Foods has brought to the community is increased interest from other businesses.

“Tyson is paving the way quite literally for other businesses to be able to move here,” Sanborn said. “Putting in roads, putting in water, sewer infrastructure, that’s going to help this area of the city develop and create jobs.”

Besides the economic development benefits, Sanborn said Tyson Foods has also made donations to the local high school and partnered with the city to provide food or financial assistance for events.

Tyson Foods was approved for a $12.3 million tax break in May.

“They’ve been a wonderful partner for us, even in the few months that they’ve been in the planning stage,” Sanborn said. “So we only expect that to continue as time goes by.”

Steve Stouffer, president of Tyson Fresh Meats, said being a good “corporate citizen” is part of the company’s mission.

“We are excited to join the Eagle Mountain city community, and in addition to bringing jobs to the area we look forward to being both a supportive community and business partner,” Stouffer said. “Our purpose, raising the world’s expectations for how much good food can do, motivates us to be engaged and positively contribute in our communities. We’re ready to get involved and be a part of what makes Eagle Mountain city a great place to live.”

Aside from donations already made, Nate Hodne, senior vice president of Tyson Foods’ Portioned Protein Innovations, said at the event that Tyson is committed to donating 144,000 meals to Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo. But the most important engagement, he said, will come from individual team members.

“We want to make certain our people are engaged in the heart of the community,” Hodne said.

Tom Sharp, the complex manager of the future site, has already become embedded in the community, moving to Eagle Mountain from Texas with his wife and three children who now attend school in Alpine School District.

“Any chance that we have to be out in the community, we’re going to make the most of that,” Sharp said. He and his family participated in a Halloween festival just last weekend, he added. “Everybody’s been open, welcoming, the school district, the community as a whole and the city members that I’ve got a chance to meet. I couldn’t ask for more.”

While the Eagle Mountain facility is being constructed, Sharp said he’ll be working on other projects with Tyson, balanced with time spent at a temporary Eagle Mountain office.

The Tyson Foods groundbreaking is significant for the city, but it’s also a big deal for the company, as it’s the first “case ready operation” in the west.

“We have several facilities in the Midwest, but now to service consumers in the west, (Utah) gives us a great place to have a facility to get to the west coast in a day with products and service consumers out there,” Hodne said. “It’s the next step in us continuing to grow this business and go west.”

Hodne said Eagle Mountain in particular stood out as a good location because of its potential for growth. In answer to concerns from residents about environmental impact or quality of life impact, Hodne said the facility does not produce any kind of “odor,” and does not generate a lot of waste.

In order to lessen the facility’s impact, Hodne said part of the development over the next two years will include looking into water reclamation projects and energy efficiency.

“Other issues that are important we’re working to ... address them,” Hodne said.

Eagle Mountain is in a unique position of being a still relatively young city that can plan its development, and Sanborn said the city plans to develop all kinds of different areas so there is something for everyone.

“We can develop in ways that have larger areas for people who want more large open spaces, people who want more smaller community feelings, we have the capacity to meet all those different desires,” Sanborn said. “One of the things that we want to focus on is creating a community where you can live, work and play, and creating jobs is a part of that.”

American Fork residents to vote on $8.5 million bond for new fire station

American Fork residents who got their ballots early have already started voting on an $8.5 million bond for a new fire station in the city.

The bond is to build a second fire station somewhere in the northeast part of the city, according to David Bunker, city administrator.

Bunker said the city hired an emergency services consulting firm a few years ago which informed the city it should have four or five fire stations, instead of just one, but city officials feel if they plan strategically they could get by with just three. If the bond is approved, the money will be used to purchase land for and build the second fire station, and leftover funds will be used to buy land for a future third fire station.

“We need to be next to transportation corridors where our public safety personnel can quickly go side to side and north to south,” Bunker said.

None of the bond will be used to hire new firefighters to man the stations. Rather, the four full-time firefighters that man the Cedar Hills fire station would be moved to the new building, and two to four more firefighters would be hired after that, Bunker said. Cedar Hills has contracted with American Fork to provide fire services which would cover about half of operational costs for the second station.

According to a recent report, Bunker said the American Fork Fire Department has had over 3,200 calls this year and is on track to reach 3,700 calls.

“To put that in perspective, we’re about 50 calls more than Lehi. we have one station,” Bunker said. “They have three. We are doing out of one station what other cities have multiple stations to do.”

Bunker said he feels residents understand the need for a second fire station. The American Fork Fire Association, an organization independent of the city, has also expressed its support, creating a Facebook page just last week with a cover photo encouraging residents to “vote yes” on the bond.

“We have a great public safety department here. Police and fire are fantastic. I think they’re the best police and fire in the whole state,” Bunker said. “So for us to provide for their needs ... what they need as far as wages and work environment, I think is really important.”

See answers to frequently asked questions about the bond on the American Fork website.Carley Porter covers northern Utah County and business for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at cporter@heraldextra.com.

ACT results show Utah's scores are up, but minorities continue to test points behind

Utah’s graduating class of 2019 was slightly more college-ready than in previous years, according to information released Wednesday from the ACT.

Utah’s graduating class of 2019 had an average ACT composite score of 20.3, with an estimated 100% of the 43,790 graduates taking the test. This year’s graduating class had a score that was 0.1 above the average composite score from 2015’s graduating class, when an estimated 100% of the 40,629 students took the test.

Nationally, 52% of high school graduates take the test, receiving an average composite score of 20.7.

The ACT does not release district, school or county-level score information.

The impact of a statewide 0.1 rise in composite scores is estimated to equate to 108 more students enrolling in college and 136 additional students earning a postsecondary degree within six years, according to the ACT.

Scores for most racial minorities continue to be lower than those for white students. White students had an average composite score of 21.3, while blacks scored an average of 16.6, American Indian students scored an average of 15.8, Latino students scored an average of 21.3 and Pacific Islanders scored an average of 16.6. Asian students scored an average of 21.2.

About one-fourth of students met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, while 38% of students didn’t meet a single benchmark in any subject. The ACT has set the college-ready benchmark at 18 for English, 22 for math, 22 for reading and 23 for science.

In individual subjects, Utah’s class of 2019 scored an average of 19.5 in English, 20 in math, 20.8 in reading and 20.3 in science. Overall, English scores were down by 0.2, math scores were up by 0.1, reading was down by 0.1 and science was up by 0.2 from the graduating class of 2018’s scores, according to information released Wednesday from the ACT.

Orem council gets five-year update on University Place CDA and its future plans

It has been five years since the Orem City Council and the Woodbury Corp. came to an agreement on a Commercial Development Area that would transform the University Mall to University Place.

On Tuesday, the council was given a five-year update on what has happened, what’s in the works and what is yet to come.

With Best Western taking over the Courtyard by Marriott building on Freedom Boulevard in Provo, Arthur Woodbury, vice president, confirmed that the Courtyard will be moving to the University Place campus.

Construction on the hotel will begin in the first quarter of next year. It will be located at the former Utah Transit Authority bus hub on the east side of the campus on 800 East at about 1000 South.

More than 70 apartments called the Exton, being built around the current parking terrace, will be ready for leasing in February. It will include a rooftop terrace. A new main entrance into the mall area from the parking terrace has already been completed.

The Devon apartments across from Costco are preleasing and will open in November.

Another parking terrace with a four-story class A office space built above the terrace is on the future schedule, as well as a redesign of the old Macy’s store for a yet-to-be named-anchor store.

Homes purchased on the north side of the campus have been demolished, the land has been cleared and everything has been prepared for the building of the new Hale Center Theater Orem.

According to Ryan Clark, director of Community Services, high-level donors to the theater need to see something from the city that shows it supports the theater by way of a resolution.

Woodbury has donated $1 million to get the theater going. Philanthropists Alan and Karen Ashton and the Barbara Barrington Jones Foundation are waiting for the city support.

The support will come in the way of a 30-year bond that the city can get at a lower interest rate. According to Jamie Davidson, city manager, the Hale Theater cannot obtain complete financing by themselves.

Similar to the Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy, Orem would own 50% of the theater and Hale would lease from them and pay back the bond.

As a failsafe, the theater is a large grant recipient of the CARE Tax and the money from that could be used to offset any lack of payment that might occur, according to Councilman Sam Lentz.

University Mall to University Place

In late 2013, the Orem City Council approved the zone change that would allow Woodbury, the owners of the mall, to redevelop 133.6 acres at the mall campus and rename it University Place.

The project was calculated to cost $500 million when completed. It would be built as demand arose over an 8- to 10-year period of time.

The project is ahead of schedule.

The first phase or benchmark would include infrastructure, rerouting roads, an office building, parking and apartments.

The CDA would be a post-performance subsidy that would allow build-out of the campus. That first benchmark has been achieved.

It is now Orem’s turn to pay back the $20 million agreed upon at completion of that first benchmark.

The CDA will last another 17 years. There are five taxing entities involved in the CDA: Orem, Utah County, Alpine School District; Central Water Conservancy District and Metropolitan Water Board. All five voted to give their approval to the CDA.

All entities have reported to the city they have already received benefits from choosing to participate in the project, according to Clark.

As University Place continues to grow, transportation and ease of mobility around the campus are a concern.

“Transportation areas are on our watch list,” Davidson said. “We will maintain and improve traffic.”

Davidson said it is anticipated that the light at 1200 South — the entrance between Trader Joes and Texas Roadhouse in front of the old Macy’s store — will move north to 1150 South/Park Avenue (on the campus). Another light will go in at 800 East at the new hotel location.