2020 budget and proposed tax increase discussion 05

Utah County Commissioners Bill Lee, Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie listen as Josh Daniels, Utah County deputy clerk/auditor, speaks during a town hall meeting concerning the 2020 budget and the proposed tax increase held Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, at the Utah County Health and Justice Building in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

The Utah County Commission signed off Wednesday on the 2020 property tax increase it passed in December, but not before the commissioners argued whether the increase should be scrapped altogether.

During a six-and-a-half-hour public meeting on Dec. 17, the commission voted 2-1 to increase the county portion of property taxes by 67.4% to address budget deficits and fund various departmental requests.

The increase passed with the caveat that the commission would reevaluate the decision in June, giving the county time to consider selling the $10 million North County Equestrian Park in northern Utah County.

That sale has yet to come to fruition, Commissioner Tanner Ainge said during Wednesday’s meeting.

The property tax increase that passed 2-1 Wednesday ended up being a 54.9% increase to the 2019 rate, according to Utah County Deputy Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels.

Commissioner Bill Lee, who voted against the increase in December, said “a lot has happened” since the commission originally considered the rate adjustment.

He specifically referenced the COVID-19 pandemic and Tuesday’s GOP primary election, in which Commissioner Nathan Ivie competed. Preliminary election results, last updated on Wednesday, show Ivie with 39.6% of votes while Tom Sakievich, an opponent of the property tax increase, received 60.3%.

“Are you going to listen to the people on this thing?,” said Lee. “I mean, last night was pretty resounding. I don’t know if anyone else watched it or not, but I was shocked at the numbers. This election turned out to be about that (property tax) issue.”

When Ainge asked what Lee proposed doing, he said “we should scrap this whole thing and start all over.”

“You’re going to do what you’re going to do,” Lee told his fellow commissioners. “But I just want to let you know that I am not in favor of this, and I don’t think the new commissioner (potentially) coming in (will be supportive). So we can go down through this process for half a year, and we can argue and squawk about it, but change is going to come.”

Ainge and Ivie both criticized Lee for not bringing up his desire to scrap the property tax increase until the day they had to vote on it.

Ivie noted that Lee had voted in favor of a number of budget increases, including adding 12 new attorneys to the Utah County Attorney’s Office.

“Because we both agreed that that attorney’s office was significantly understaffed, and was failing to protect the rights of the citizens of this county as a result of the unreasonable caseloads that they were carrying,” said Ivie. “And so we voted to do that. That was the single largest budgetary increase that we had to pay for.”

Ivie called Lee’s proposal to abandon the increase “political rhetoric” and criticized the commissioner for supporting expenditure increases without finding a way to fund them.

“And so the reality, Bill, is you have no problem wanting to spend money, but you have a problem wanting to pay for it,” Ivie said.

“You approved more spending than I did,” said Ainge. “And so there’s no way of getting around that. If you’re going to approve more spending, you’ve got to find a way to pay for it.”

Payson resident Julie Blaney, who led a citizen referendum filed in opposition to the tax increase that failed to meet the threshold of valid signatures, said she was “astounded by the total deafness of some of the … elected officers of this county” and asked that the increase be reconsidered.

“Our economy is suffering so greatly today,” Blaney said during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting. “The people are stuffing.”

The property tax increase approved in December and signed off on Wednesday marks the first property tax increase in Utah County in 23 years.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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