A group of Utah County residents have started gathering signatures for a citizen referendum filed in response to a property tax increase approved by the Utah County Commission in December.

Residents for Responsible Government, which was organized after the commission approved a 67.4% increase to the county portion of property taxes, filed a referendum in late December to have the question of whether to approve the tax increase be put on the ballot in November.

The property tax increase approved by the commission will cost the average Utah County homeowner about $83 more a year.

The county reviewed and approved the referendum on Friday, according to Julie Blaney of Payson, one of the petition’s organizers. Now, Blaney and others opposed to the increase have until March 2 to gather the required number of signatures.

Justin Heideman, an attorney who is representing Residents for Responsible Government, said the group needs at least 21,000 signatures for the property tax question to be on a ballot in November. But that number could be more, Heideman said, depending on how the county measures Orem’s population. Metropolitan areas more than 100,000 people require more signatures, he said, and Orem’s population is right near that at 97,521.

With this in mind, as well as the fact that some of the signatures won’t get verified, Heideman said he recommended the group gather 50,000 signatures.

The attorney criticized the technical nature of the referendum procedure, calling it a process “designed to be as difficult as possible.”

“It is an active effort to invalidate,” he said about how the government handles referendums.

Heideman criticized the county for approving the referendum on a Friday evening before a three-day weekend, which he said effectively shortened the group’s timeframe for gathering signatures.

On Wednesday evening, referendum organizers and supporters met in Orem to divide up yellow signature packets and talk about their plans for getting people to sign.

Orem resident Paul Miller gave a demonstration on how to use Veti, a phone application that scans driver’s licenses and pulls up voter registration information. Miller said this will help those gathering signatures ensure that people sign properly and that their signatures are counted.

Sign-up stations will be set up in stores throughout the county, including Meiers in Highland, Day's Market in Provo and Payson Market in Payson, Miller said, as well as in people’s houses. A full list of places to sign can be found at rejecttaxincrease.com.

$83 extra dollars a year may not seem like a lot, but it can be for low-income families or people on a fixed income, said Miller.

Additionally, businesses would be “hit twice” since their business and personal property taxes would also go up, he said.

The Utah County Commission approved the increase after years of dipping into financial reserves and after multiple county departments, including the clerk/auditor, attorney and sheriff’s offices, requested staffing and budget increases for 2020.

Lynda Roper, of Provo, said she listened to dozens of residents speak in public meetings in opposition to the property tax increase.

“It’s not right,” Roper said about the increase.

Roper took home packets on Wednesday and said she plans to collect signatures from neighbors and Provo residents.

When asked about how the momentum behind a referendum filed in response to statewide tax reform would impact this effort, Roper said it could encourage people to support the property tax petition.

“It might motivate them to see that it really does good to sign,” said Roper.

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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