Guest: Springville and Lehi looking to follow other towns to improve Parks, Arts and Recreation
I recently got off the phone with Payson Mayor Bill Wright. About the only thing more impressive than Bill’s ten-gallon cowboy hat is his even bigger heart that brims with excitement for Payson. Driving through Payson you will find amazing additions to that city’s parks, arts, and recreation. This includes new pickleball and basketball courts that have proven wildly popular. Payson also has a new mural project and the “Flowers on Main” effort beautifying its downtown. But there’s more. Payson secured funding that will soon provide new restrooms and benches at the historic Peteetnet Academy, and has plans for a new PA system on its historic main street that will be piping in Christmas music before long.
But Payson is not the only town making similar improvements. Take a look at Santaquin, Spanish Fork, Provo, Orem, Pleasant Grove, American Fork, Lindon, Vineyard and Cedar Hills, and you will find similar investments in open space, recreation, and the arts. According to Wright, it has to do with a small 0.1% increase in the local sales tax these cities implemented over the past decade or so. This tax is known as PARC, or PAR — which stands for Parks, Arts, and Recreation. Payson residents voted for it in 2016 before Wright became mayor. This seemingly minor adjustment (which raised Payson’s local sales tax from 1% to 1.1%) only adds a 1/1000 increase on purchases, but has resulted in millions of dollars staying in Utah Valley towns for parks, arts and recreation. Surprisingly, Springville and Lehi are two of the few cities in Utah County that have not yet enacted PAR and residents of those two towns are starting to notice the difference.
I Co-Chair a group called “Bringing Springville Up to PAR” and we are working like crazy to get the word out about Proposition 15 in Springville, which, if passed will enact PAR. A similar Proposition (#7–PARC) is on the ballot in Lehi. As we inform people about what makes PAR unique, we have found a surprisingly positive response. First, although tiny, PAR is NOT charged on groceries. It is only charged on restaurant or prepared foods (think hot pizza), and non-foods. Second, PAR is not a mandate from the state. Local residents have to vote for it. PAR also sunsets after ten years unless voted for again. When I remind people that Utah’s conservative legislature capped the local sales tax at 3%, and that we are merely working within (and far below) that cap, voters begin to realize that PAR is not a slippery slope of taxation but is a way for a local community to leverage its tax base to its own benefit. The most common frustration I have heard from residents of Springville is not that we pay a few extra cents when we eat out in Spanish Fork or Provo, but that they don’t pay it when they come here.
Last year, Springville lost an estimated $520,000 in PAR revenue. Some of that would have come from Springville’s two truck stops that sell millions of gallons of fuel each year. Lehi is also smarting over the fact that its Traverse outlets and restaurants are bringing in zero PAR revenue — and those outlets are patronized by shoppers from all over Utah and Salt Lake Counties. An extra 10 cents on top of a pair of Nike or Vans shoes means little to the consumer who just spent $100, but it turns out those dimes add up for the community as a whole.
Five years after Payson voters approved PARC, Mayor Wright is not hearing any complaints. “We put it to good use. It’s one of those taxes where I really do believe the people enjoy what their money goes to”, says Wright. Considering that Payson, like Springville, has a major I-15 interchange with a Walmart Supercenter surrounded by multiple restaurants and gas stations, it’s clear our south county neighbor made a smart move.
I encourage residents of Springville and Lehi to take a close look at PAR and consider what it can do for our communities. One neighbor recently told me that “When people don’t understand a ballot proposition, they tend to vote ‘no,'” and that’s why it’s crucial that we as citizens understand what’s on the ballot before we vote. As farmland increasingly turns into new subdivisions, opportunities for conserving open space, expanding our tax base and improving amenities are dwindling. Parks, arts, and recreation (PAR) is ultimately a quality of life issue for all of us — and that includes individuals and families, seniors and young people. I encourage residents of Springville and Lehi to take a look at what Payson and most other Utah County towns have done and vote “YES” to bring our cities up to PAR.
Doug Holm is co-chair of Bringing Springville Up to PAR.