The Utah County Commission will be discussing two possible tax increases this December.
After discussion about imposition of a quarter-cent sales tax increase Tuesday, the three Utah County Commissioners decided to hold off on discussing the issue again until Dec. 11.
Commissioner Greg Graves, who originally placed the item on the agenda, agreed to move it back after Commission Chair Nathan Ivie voiced concerns about the discussion being premature, since the commission is currently working through the annual budget process, as well as holding a public hearing for a proposed increase in collected property tax revenue at 6 p.m. Dec. 4.
The decision to set the final property tax rate will be made that night, and up to $7.5 million in additional annual tax revenue could be collected depending on where the commission sets the rate.
“My personal preference would be to deal with one issue at a time,” Ivie said. “And I think our top issue right now is the budget and the property tax.”
The additional month also gives time to address other concerns with passing the fourth-quarter cent sales tax now, including the lack of a service-level agreement with the Utah Transit Authority.
UTA would receive 40 percent of funds raised by the tax after July 1, 2019. An interlocal agreement is already in place, giving Utah County more control over where UTA’s portion of those funds go. A service-level agreement between UTA and Utah County isn’t expected to be in place until January, said Andrew Jackson, executive director of Mountainland Association of Governments.
Though the commission did not make a decision on implementing the fourth quarter-cent sales tax, several people took the opportunity to speak for or against it.
Rona Rahlf, president and CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, read a letter in support of imposing the tax, signed by dozens of local business owners and community leaders, including Orem Mayor Richard Brunst, Cedar Hills Mayor Jenney Rees and the board of directors for the American Fork, Lehi and Pleasant Grove-Lindon chambers of commerce.
“We support the tax because it will help meet critical, unfunded transportation needs in our communities,” the letter reads. “The business community understands that investment in multi-modal transportation is directly tied to economic development and quality of life.”
If implemented, the tax would gather an additional $22 million per year, all proceeds of which would go to the county before July 1, 2019. After that date, the proceeds would be split 20 percent for the county, 40 percent for cities and 40 percent for UTA.
Another option for enacting the tax, putting it on the ballot for a vote of the people, was discouraged in the letter.
“(T)his option loses nearly $24 million dollars in collections,” the letter states.
Other Utah County residents spoke against implementation of the tax, including Heather Williamson, state director for Americans for Prosperity.
Williamson noted that in the election last week, voters resoundingly voted no on a proposed gas tax increase intended to send additional funding to education. In addition, Utah County voters also defeated a ballot question in 2015 asking to implement the quarter-cent sales tax.
“If this is something that voters want, then why would you want to go around them?” Williamson said. “Why not put it on the ballot, put it to them, and let them vote on it?”
Commissioner Greg Graves, who placed the item on the agenda, said he wants to enact the tax as soon as possible.
“The more we delay, the more delayed it is on the collection,” Graves said. “Even if we enacted this today or in a couple weeks, it still takes six or seven months.”
Commissioner Bill Lee maintained that the tax should go to the ballot, rather than being passed by the commission.
“They may vote it down again, I don’t know,” Lee said. “Since we’ve gone through that process the first time with the people, for us to just jump around and impose it without taking it back to the people for a vote I think is shortsighted.”
Ivie said he’s been focused lately on the property tax, and as a result hasn’t had a chance to listen or share information on the sales tax with the public, though he wants to have the discussion about either approving the sales tax or sending it to the public or the vote.