The Utah House of Representatives and Senate both voted Tuesday to repeal the tax reform package lawmakers passed during a special legislative session in December.
Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, sponsored the repeal bill, House Bill 185, after a citizen referendum that would let citizens vote on the tax reform in November received tens of thousands of signatures.
Hours before the Legislature met and voted on the repeal, the Utah Lt. Governor’s Office said the referendum had 117,154 verified signatures as of 7:40 a.m. Tuesday. Only 115,869 were needed for the referendum to go to the ballot.
The House voted 70-1 in favor of repealing the tax reform with the lone opposing vote coming from Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem. The bill then went to the Senate, where it passed 27-0.
“There were quite a lot of good things in that bill,” said Gibson, who was the House sponsor of the tax reform effort, “but suffice it to say there was a referendum process … and many people in the state of Utah do not agree with this tax restructuring bill.”
Gov. Gary Herbert announced on Twitter Tuesday evening that he had signed H.B. 185.
In an interview, Stratton said he voted against the repeal to “keep the discussion going” and because he didn’t want to undo the work that the Legislature had done.
“So we’ve repealed it and now we’re not going to do anything,” said Stratton. “We’re going to wait until the next legislative session to deal with it.”
Before the Senate vote, Sen. Luz Escamillla, D-Salt Lake City, asked what would happen to the referendum if the Legislature passed the repeal. Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he wasn’t sure but that it would be moot to put it on the ballot since there would be nothing to repeal.
Would all aspects of the tax reform bill be repealed, asked Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, including increases in per-child exemptions for families?
“Yes, it’s everything in there,” said Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who sponsored the tax reform bill.
Adams said he did not think the Legislature should consider another tax reform measure this session, adding they should wait until after November’s gubernatorial election to return to the issue.
“I think we need to wait to see who comes out of that race and revisit it when we have a new governor,” Adams told reporters after the Senate vote.
Former Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, who led the referendum effort, said he and others will continue to keep an eye on what the Legislature does regarding tax reform.
“We will still watch,” Cox said. “We don’t want this bill to come back in pieces during this session or next.”
Cox said he and others thought certain parts of the reform would be bad for Utahns, including increasing the sales tax on unprepared food and gas.
“I’m hoping that they listened and they will not go back to any of those items,” he said.
The biggest piece of feedback from the public, Hillyard said, was that “people did not want their taxes raised,” although the reform package would have decreased total taxes by about $160 million.
Gibson said that he appreciated and respected the referendum process but that there was a misconception that “this was a rushed bill done in the middle of the night,” which he said wasn’t the case.
The Legislature will have to restructure the state’s tax code at some point in the next few years, said Gibson.
“We will be back,” he said. “It is inevitable. We may even see some of it this session. But we will be back to continue to look at this issue.”
One week after his wife was sentenced to jail for stealing thousands of dollars from Utah Valley University, a former college associate dean pleaded guilty on Tuesday to the same crime.
Phil Clegg, 47, accepted a plea deal in 4th District Court in exchange for pleading guilty to two counts of communications fraud, both third-degree felonies.
Instead of serving zero to five years in prison for each charge, attorneys agreed to a plea in abeyance that requires Clegg to pay full restitution of $64,000 and serve 120 hours of community service.
“(Clegg) neglected his duties to the university and the students he served, opting instead to funnel large quantities of public money to benefit his private business,” UVU officials wrote in a letter to Judge James Brady.
The one-page letter stated university authorities agreed with the plea deal and hoped the Attorney General’s Office would ensure full restitution.
Charges state Clegg and his wife, Jennifer, stole more than $380,000 from the university to pay for travel expenses and a private theater business.
At the time, Clegg had worked for nearly 15 years at UVU and served as Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Leadership and Involvement. He also previously attended UVU as a student and served a leadership role in student government.
“This is a high-ranking position of trust and authority, integral to the university’s open-admissions mission,” the letter stated. “Clegg nonetheless abused his position to benefit personally.”
According to charges, Clegg stole $32,637 worth of newspaper reimbursements from USA Today to the university between Sept. 2012 and May 2016.
He also authorized non-existent students to attend a conference, costing around $3,950, and afterward paid for a vacation to New York with those students for $7,630.
After Clegg resigned in May 2016, authorities found a fake student organization account that Clegg created to steal $28,167 from other student’s clubs and organizations. The fraud continued from 2011 to 2016, charges state.
Along with the scams created by his wife, who worked as financial manager for the College of Technology and Computing, the couple cost more than $72,000 total loss to the university.
The stolen money went to a public family theater in American Fork called Towne Cinemas or a non-profit organization called the American Student Association of Community Colleges, both managed by the couple.
“Fraud, waste, and abuse of public funds negatively affected the mission of the university, risks eroding the public’s trust in the university, and has impacted the success of our students,” university officials wrote in the letter.
If Clegg fully complies with the plea in abeyance, the charges will reduce to class A misdemeanors in two years.
Last week, Jennifer Clegg was sentenced to serve four months at the Utah County Jail, 60 days on GPS monitor, 100 hours of community service and probation.
The fastest growing city in the United States will soon have its first detective.
On Tuesday, the Utah County Commission voted 3-0 to authorize the Utah County Sheriff’s Office to change its staffing plan to hire a full-time detective who would work in Vineyard, one of the county’s contract cities.
The sheriff’s office contracts with a number of cities in the county that do not have their own police departments, including Eagle Mountain, Elk Ridge, Woodland Hills and Goshen.
Sgt. Holden Rockwell, a sheriff’s office patrol sergeant assigned to Vineyard, said the detective position was needed to accommodate the rapid growth of the small Utah County city.
Vineyard’s population grew by 62.79% between 2017 and 2018, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, making it the fastest growing city with populations above 1,000 in the county.
Police services in Vineyard need to ramp up “as the city grows and as call volumes go up and case numbers go up,” Rockwell said, adding that the city currently has six patrol deputies and a full-time school resource officer.
The detective would investigate cases and incidents “that go above and beyond what a patrol deputy can do,” the sergeant said.
In December, the commission passed its 2020 budget and increased the sheriff’s office’s enforcement budget by $379,964, or 1.8%. But that increase does not have anything to do with hiring a Vineyard detective, according to Rockwell, since the city will be funding the position.
Rockwell told the commissioners that the county would start receiving funds from Vineyard “as soon as a person is in that position.”
Commissioner Bill Lee said he was concerned that hiring a detective for Vineyard could make the county liable if something happened to them.
“We have liabilities that are out there in the way of insurance purposes and possible deaths and everything else that can happen that we’re fully on the hook for,” said Lee.
Rockwell said cities pay an insurance premium as part of their contract, which is about $1,162 a year per deputy.
Commissioner Nathan Ivie asked whether those contracted through the sheriff’s office respond to crimes or events that occur in unincorporated areas of the county. Rockwell said they do, adding that deputies in Vineyard respond to incidents elsewhere in the county if other officers aren’t available.
Hiring a detective assigned to Vineyard will help keep residents safe as its population continues to grow, said Rockwell.
“A detective position is warranted,” he said.
More than 40 residents and stakeholders, including developers and realtors, gathered at the Orem City Council Chambers on Oct. 24 to brainstorm and then offer recommendations of how to ease the affordable housing crunch in the city.
On Tuesday, city planner Jason Bench presented the city council with the results of those discussions and what suggestions Orem should move on.
Ideas at the charrette covered everything from home share programs for the elderly, to inclusionary zoning, to tiny homes made from portable storage units.
City staff pulled three main issues that are causing the greatest concern for the lack of affordable housing in Orem, including: high housing costs that reduce disposable income, high costs affecting the economy and high housing costs pushing families into homelessness.
“My own children can’t live in Orem because it’s too expensive,” said Councilwoman Debby Lauret.
According to Bench, the number of new housing units does not meet the number of new households coming to the city.
The state has mandated that cities must address and do something to add affordable housing in the city. According to Orem’s Community Services, if they don’t do it they won’t get state funding for roads and other items.
Orem is expected to have more than 200,000 residents by 2065, according to city growth statistics. The city has about 100,000 residents at present.
Affordable housing standards say that a household should be able to afford mortgage/rent and all utilities for no more than 30% of their total monthly income.
About 6,769 households in Orem are living in unaffordable housing, meaning they are paying out more than 30% their monthly income.
According to city information, 6% of Orem makes below the poverty level of $12,490 a year. About 24% reportedly make $46,000 a year. Neither of those numbers allow for the purchase of an averaged-priced home in the city which is about $310,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.
Bench delineated what Orem has done to promote affordable housing. That includes student housing developments, multi-family units, accessory apartments, senior overlay zones and the State Street master plan mixed-used districts.
Areas that are impeding Orem and other cities throughout the country from having enough affordable housing include a supply of units for large families, enough land to develop, construction costs, zoning, Hispanic and other minority mortgage applications being denied and high rents and home sale prices.
“We don’t have enough supply to keep rents low,” Bench said.
The council discussed at length the accessory apartment issues of what is legal and what is not. Should they make it easier for people to convert basements to legal affordable apartments and making sure buyers are aware of the accessory apartment laws.
Lauret noted that affordable housing is expected to rise to the top of the discussion list during this current legislative session.
“We could have more things mandated on affordable housing during this legislative season,” Lauret said.
Mayor Richard Brunst suggested looking at smaller lot sizes like instead of the normal R-8 zones to have R-6 zones in areas of the city where it would be appropriate.
“Orem is a city where R-6 (zones) would work like on Geneva Road and be affordable in today’s world,” Brunst said.
One of the things Bench suggests is looking at ways to get some of the regulations out of the way such as the zoning overlay and changes.
The one thing Bench is excited for is that residents want to be a part of the discussion and plans are to continue having the charrettes, open houses and other discussions.
“We’re encouraged. Citizens are very engaged on how they can help their neighborhoods and help their city,” Bench said.