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Utah County Commission approves property tax rate decrease

The Utah County Commission voted on Wednesday to reduce the county property tax rate to 0.000724%.

The decrease, which passed unanimously, is the latest move to roll back a $19.3 million tax increase to the portion of property tax collected by the county that a previous makeup of the commission approved in December 2019.

The approved decrease means Utah County will collect $9.6 million less in property tax revenue this year, representing a 49.7% reduction to the 2019 increase.

Commissioner Bill Lee, who voted against the increase two years ago, said in a written statement that “Utah County taxpayers have waited 18 months to see a meaningful reduction to the excessive tax increase approved in December 2019.”

“I have strongly advocated reducing that tax increase from the moment it was approved, and I am thrilled that today we essentially cut it in half,” Lee said. “Commissioner (Tom) Sakievich and Commissioner (Amelia Powers) Gardner, both of whom ran on reducing the 2019 tax, should be commended for joining with me to provide this relief to the people of Utah County.”

The property tax increase approved in 2019 was an effort to balance the county budget and accommodate rapid growth. Before the increase, Utah County had not raised its property tax rate in 23 years.

During Wednesday’s commission meeting, Lee called the proposal, which he put forward, a “reflection” of discussions that all three commissioners have had about adjusting the property tax rate.

“I think this is a great day,” he said. “We’ve been working on this. I haven’t necessarily campaigned on this, but I’ve been talking about this openly and there’s been campaigning to do something of this nature.”

Gardner said she thought it was a “reasonable” proposal that “keeps us on track but still only taxes at the rate necessary.”

“I think it’s one that’s still providing for the needs of the county and providing a level of service to the citizens that is hopefully getting us more on track to meeting statutory guidelines,” said Gardner, former clerk/auditor.

Gardner continued, “It keeps us, for the next 10 years, being solvent while also reducing the tax rate. So I think that it’s a very good balance.”

Sakievich praised the proposal and said “it’s been great to see how this has shaped itself over these past several months.” He also noted that former Commissioner Steve White helped put the proposal together as the commission board’s budgetary analyst.

“And, for me, that helped tremendously. Because past commissioners, I’ve learned, take a year or two to understand this,” said Sakievich, who took office in January. “And I’ve had five months to actually work (on) this after the COVID process. So I’d count myself lucky.”

In his written statement, Lee thanked “all the citizens who have reached out on this issue since 2019.”

“Your voices have been heard loud and clear, and I am proud to represent your interests on the Utah County Commission,” he said.

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Payson requests county funding for improvements at Forebay Trailhead

Payson officials are requesting $40,000 from Utah County in order to put a restroom at the Forebay Trailhead in Payson Canyon as part of an ongoing project to improve recreation and increase tourism in south Utah County.

During a Utah County Commission work session on Wednesday, Payson City Planner Jill Spencer said the city recently updated the Payson Forebay Area Management Plan and identified needs for the area, including “formalized access points and trailhead improvements,” as well as parking areas, improved picnic areas, signage, wildland fire mitigation and “fencing to designate improved access points.”

“We had a lot of needs that were identified through that planning process,” said Spencer.

Most of those improvements have been made already, according to Spencer, thanks to a $139,833 Utah Outdoor Recreation Grant from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and about $100,000 from Payson’s PARC Tax.

“But there is only one thing missing,” Spencer told the commissioners. “There’s just one portion of this project that is not complete. And that is for the restroom facility.”

Spencer said the restroom, which would represent about 15% of total project costs and would be funded through Utah County’s TRCC and TRT tax revenues, and other improvements will help attract tourists to the Nebo Loop National Scenic Byway, which runs between Utah and Juab counties and has access points in Payson and Nephi.

“It’s not even really about boundaries,” she said. “It’s about working together cooperatively as communities through Utah County, or coming together with county government to make sure that we’re looking at what the needs are for the larger community, and just the open space and recreation opportunities.”

People visit the Nebo Loop National Scenic Byway from “all across the country,” including Missouri, Washington, Iowa, South Dakota and Idaho, according to Spencer, who noted that “there (are) a lot of recreation opportunities and trails in the canyon” for visitors “to enjoy when they come to our area.”

“We do cater to the traveling public,” she said. “So all across the country people are coming to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Utah, and specifically what we have here in Utah County.”

Popular attractions located near the Nebo Loop include rock formations at Devil’s Kitchen, the high peaks of Mount Nebo, Petticoat Cliffs and recreation opportunities provided at Payson Lakes recreation area.

The improvements in Payson Canyon are part of the city’s rebranding as a city “that builds on our heritage and plans for the future.” The rebranding effort includes a new slogan for the city: “Home to Adventure.”

Commissioner Tom Sakievich acknowledged that the Nebo Loop National Scenic Byway is “beautiful” and also noted that the new restroom would not come at any additional cost to Utah County taxpayers.

“We have it (the funding), so to speak, in the bank,” he said.

The commission did not take any action on Payson City’s request during Wednesday’s work session, at which Payson Mayor Bill Wright and City Manager David Tuckett were also present.

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Two new Utah hunting laws on target to take effect Thursday

Two new hunting laws approved by the Utah State Legislature in this year’s general session took effect on Thursday.

The first, House Bill 295, “restricts the baiting of big game animals (like deer and elk) when hunting in Utah,” according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

“In a nutshell, baiting big game is illegal if your intentions are to lure an animal to an area to hunt or harvest it,” DWR Law Enforcement Captain Wyatt Bubak said on Wednesday in a press release. “Baiting wildlife can artificially distribute animals on the landscape, which can potentially result in habitat damage and increased disease transmission. There are also concerns related to the ‘fair chase’ of baiting animals when hunting.”

Bubak noted that conservation officers “will be enforcing this law during this fall’s big game hunting seasons.”

Hunters can still use bait during the summer months while they are scouting an area that they plan to hunt in the fall, but “they must remove the bait before the hunt — with enough advance time that the animal isn’t still being lured to that area,” according to the DWR.

“This is probably one of those bills that you’ve heard nothing about, that you haven’t received any emails about,” Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, the sponsor of H.B. 295, told his fellow lawmakers in February, noting that the bill only makes “slight changes” to Utah’s baiting law.

The bill, which passed 63-6 in the House and 22-5 in the Senate, defines baiting as “intentionally placing food or nutrient substances to manipulate the behavior of wildlife for the purpose of hunting or attempting to harvest big game.”

Violations under the new baiting law “may result in criminal charges ranging from a class B misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, and may also lead to the suspension of one’s hunting privileges,” according to the DWR.

Any information or tips about big game hunters using bait can be reported by calling 1-800-662-3337 or through the UTDWR mobile app.

The second law, H.B. 197, prohibits the DWR from issuing a fishing or hunting license to anyone that owes at least $2,500 “on an arrearage obligation of child support based on an administrative or judicial order.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, includes exemptions for individuals who have “obtained a judicial order staying enforcement of the individual’s obligation on the amount in arrears.”

In February, Lisonbee told her colleagues that, as of September 2019, the Utah Office of Recovery Services has reported about $399 million in past due child support from 86,000 cases involving 112,000 children.

H.B. 197 passed 68-4 in the House and 26-1 in the Senate.

In a written statement, DWR Administrative Section Chief Kenny Johnson said the agency “recognize(s) that hunting and fishing activities help maintain family relationships, and we support any effort that will help those relationships stay intact.”

“We want individuals to be aware that this law is going into effect July 1 and want them to start making plans now so they are not caught off guard when they try to buy a hunting or fishing license, or obtaining upcoming hunting season permits,” Johnson said.