Cedar Fort man feels pressured by rising property valuations
Weston Ault explains the ownership of the land near his as he drives up the access trail to Pole Canyon near Cedar Fort on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.
Weston Ault stops his Polaris Ranger in sight of a plot of land that he owns in Utah County near Cedar Fort on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.
Weston Ault poses for a portrait near his land in Utah County near Cedar Fort on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.
The access trail to Pole Canyon is pictured on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.
Weston Ault drives down the access trail to Pole Canyon in Utah County near Cedar Fort on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.
Weston Ault was raised in Cedar Fort, a small town of about 400 souls in the far northwest of Utah County, and aside of a few short stints of schooling and travel, he’s lived there his whole life.
Years before Ault was even a flicker in his parents’ eye, his great-grandfather first started raising sheep on the family’s 2,200 acres of land in the Pole Canyon mountain range west of the town. At the age of 14, Ault started working with his father, running cattle in the canyon. Ault, 41, carries on the tradition with his own herd of cattle now.
Ault hoped to pass the land and cattle onto his own children, but because of a recent jump in the valuation of his parcels, he worries that won’t happen.
“I’m concerned I’m going to lose it to taxes,” Ault said.
The Utah County Assessor’s Office raised the valuation on five of the Ault family parcels by 410 percent to 812 percent. One of his 320-acre lots jumped 810 percent in valuation this year over last year. According to Utah County land records, the lot, which sits on the east mountainside along Pole Canyon, was valued at about $21,000 in 1984. Its value ticked up every few years until 2017, when it was listed as worth $55,300. For 2018, the county listed its value at $448,000.
His other four properties read the same as this one. Each started in 1984 with a value of about $2,000 for 30 acres, about $10,000 for 162 acres, about $21,000 for 324 acres and $10,000 for another 160 acres. In 2017, they were valued between $6,900 and $55,000. When Ault got his 2018 property tax valuation notice this fall, the 30 acres had jumped to $43,000 and the 162 acres jumped to $228,000.
There have been no improvements to his land, so Ault does not agree with the change.
“There is no road in Pole Canyon and no access to roads. There is no water, power, gas or sewer, and the slope of my property is too steep for construction. Seasonal grazing is the only use for this land,” he said. “There is no reason my property should be valued that much.”
Ault’s property is only accessible by an all-terrain vehicle or truck with four-wheel drive, and he has to bump along an access trail for more than three miles in Pole Canyon before arriving at the edge of his first parcel. And he likes it that way.
With just a post office and a gas station, Cedar Fort is a 25-minute drive to the nearest freeway on-ramp, and a vast expanse of sagebrush and native grasses separate it from the western reaches of Eagle Mountain. Ault and his wife commute to Salt Lake for work, but love living far removed from the hustle and bustle of inner Utah County. When asked why, while sitting in his all-terrain vehicle surrounded only by snow, hills, sagebrush, scrub oak and the occasional call of the crow, he replied: “This.”
“This is the draw. If I didn’t have my lands and my animals, I might as well live in Salt Lake,” he said.
Currently, Ault’s land is under greenbelt zoning, so his actual taxes did not jump with the higher land valuations. But Ault worries about losing his greenbelt status down the road as Utah County grows.
“I’m worried about the fourth and fifth generations. If they drop the greenbelt status, then I will pay a lot in taxes. And it turns into a land grab at that point,” he said.
Kris Poulson, Utah County assessor, said in an email that the county is bound by state code.
“So as long as the owner of the property is using the property in a qualifying manner, the county can not remove the greenbelt exemption. The qualifying uses are not set by the county, but defined at the state level,” he said.
Ault said he also is frustrated with the county valuation process. With the Utah County Commission considering a proposal to levy a tax rate that exceeds the county’s certified tax rate this week, Ault believes the county is raising his property value now, so they will receive higher tax income with this possible tax increase.
He owns three similar parcels near Lewiston Peak and Flat Top Mountain that lie in Tooele County. Tooele County did not significantly raise the valuations for those lots.
Ault is in the process of appealing Utah County’s valuation change.
The original version of this article explained that the Daily Herald was not able to connect with the Utah County Assessor’s Office before deadline. The Herald and the Assessor’s office were able to connect after deadline, and their clarification is added to this article.