Residents and visitors will soon be paying an extra penny for every four dollars spent on many taxable goods in Utah County.
The Utah County Commission voted 2-1 Tuesday to implement a fourth-quarter cent sales tax to fund roads and transit, while stipulating that the tax must come back under review or sunset by the end of 2028.
The tax is expected to generate about $22 million per year, with Utah County getting 100 percent of the tax proceeds before July 1, 2019. After that, Utah County only receives 20 percent, while 40 percent will go to cities and 40 percent will go to the Utah Transit Authority.
Commissioners Greg Graves and Nathan Ivie voted in favor of the tax implementation, each stressing that implementing the tax will help save money for the county in the long run.
“By implementing the tax now, we save a little over $8 million in debt,” Ivie said. “That can go to new construction.”
In addition, Ivie said, implementing the tax now will also move several road projects up by a couple of years.
Commissioner Bill Lee, the lone vote against the tax increase, stressed that his vote against was not because he does not see the need for the additional road funding.
The option to increase the quarter-cent sales tax came before Utah County voters in 2015, and was soundly voted down.
For many people, the distaste for the tax came from a large portion going to UTA, an organization with little public trust that was recently completely restructured by the Legislature in hopes of improvement. Lee and the other commissioners spent months working on an interlocal agreement with UTA that gives more local control over UTA’s portion of the funds.
That agreement stipulates that UTA’s portion of the tax revenue will be used to pay off local UTA projects like the bus rapid transit, freeing up that money for local road projects.
“We’ve been given a transit partner who has been fiscally very poorly managed,” Ivie said. “Because of the interlocal agreement we have passed and signed, we have the opportunity to save about $74 million in interest from now until the year 2030. That’s a huge, huge savings. That frees up enormous amounts of money for us to go ahead and address some needs.”
Even with the changes, Lee said he believes the issue should be brought back to the public for a vote.
“I’m not voting no because we don’t need road funding,” Lee said. “I’m voting no because I’ve heard from the people for a long time on this, and it still rings in my ears.”
Graves, who has been supportive of implementing the tax throughout the discussions, said even people he’s heard from who oppose the tax say the county needs better roads.
“This helps do that,” Graves said.
Many cities throughout the county passed resolutions in favor of Utah County implementing the tax, and business leaders including representatives from the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce have spoken in favor of the tax as well.
Andrew Jackson, executive director of the Mountainland Association of Governments, said two surveys have been done, both showing that about 25 percent of the respondents were opposed to the tax. One survey showed 59 percent in favor, the other 46 percent with the remainder undecided.
Sam Lentz, an Orem city councilman, told the commissioners he is one of those who opposed Proposition 1 in 2015, but is now in favor of implementing the tax because of what the interlocal agreement accomplishment.
The vote to raise the tax comes less than a week after the commission voted unanimously against raising property taxes in the county.
Utah County also approved its budget Tuesday, budgeting more than $8 million into its reserve fund, according to Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson.
The commission approved the $88.7 million budget, which fully funds a cost of living adjustment for employees. That budget, however, left $6.2 million in unfunded department asks, so the commission placed an additional $6.2 million placed in a restricted account bringing the total budget amount to nearly $95 million.
The $6.2 million in unfunded department asks includes about $1 million for the Utah County Attorney’s Office staffing, $1.4 million for sheriff’s office staffing, 742,000 for sheriff’s office equipment, $1.3 million for public defenders, $638,000 for school nurses for the health department, 109,000 for mosquito abatement and $350,000 for elections, Ivie said.
Ivie said since those additional asks are being budgeted for through reserves, he believes there should be the safeguard of having the funds in the restricted account to make sure the funding is truly justified.
“We need to try to live within our means initially, then when those things truly become necessary they can come and get them,” Ivie said.
The anticipated 2019 revenue from the new sales tax is not reflected in that budget. Because the tax won’t go into effect until April, Ivie said he would rather wait and later take that revenue into account through a budget amendment.