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Mt Pleasant will put RAP tax

on ballot for voters to decide

 

By Rhett Wilkinson

Staff writer

9-3-2020

 

MT. PLEASANT—The city council has decided to put the RAP tax on the ballot this November.

Mt. Pleasant residents expressed their dissatisfaction with a proposed recreation, arts and parks (RAP) sales tax (one cent on every $10) at a public hearing on Tuesday.

The council made their decision after the hearing, in a 4-0 vote, with a motion from Councilman Justin Atkinson and the second from Councilman Rondy Black.

“Leave it up for the citizens,” Councilman Russ Keisel said.

“That’s what I say,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson and Keisel spoke in favor of putting the tax on the ballot after Councilman Sam Draper spoke in favor of putting the tax on the ballot next year.

“It may not be a good year to put it on the ballot,” Draper said. “It’s something you can always add to the ballot.

“I’m unsure about this November,” Draper said.

Keisel said he wants to pursue “what is best for the city and the city’s opinions … not a specific group or anything else.”

“What are we hurting by putting it off until next year?” Draper asked.

“Well, what’s wrong with putting it on the ballot and letting them make a decision?” Keisel asked.

Atkinson said “we could probably be in the best economic times that we are in” and there will still be opposition “because of the ideology behind it.” Next year, the same people who opposed the tax would be back, Atkinson said.

Keisel said there could be more.

Resident Jeff McDonald said he opposes the tax because “it’s a tax increase.” He could be out of town in the future, he said, noting that then, the council wouldn’t need to deal with him.

“I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or another if it gets on the ballot,” Atkinson said, adding that if the council decides to put the tax on the ballot, now is as good a time as any.

“It would be interesting to see what the city thinks about it,” Keisel said. “I run on the basis of what is going to be best for the whole community.”

In public participation, McDonald said “[I] want to appeal to you to consider this tax increase. Because that’s what it is; it’s a tax increase.”

“We are advised religiously by religious leaders [and] politically by political leaders [to prepare],” McDonald said.

McDonald also said that the United States of America is “not a democracy,” but “a United States of America Republic.”

If the U.S. was a democracy, “every issue that would come up” would be decided by the majority.

“[But] we’re not; we’re a Republic,” McDonald said.

McDonald also said that if the public were to vote for a tax increase, they would be “deceived.”

The council preceded the Tuesday, Aug. 25 public hearing by voting 4-0 to move forward with it because the hearing wasn’t put on the Utah public notice website in time.

Pointing out that there are a few names attached to the RAP tax, Mayor Michael Olsen said that “most cities now have [the tax]” and that it’s an additional tax.

Tom Brooks, who moved to Mt. Pleasant about a year-and-a-half ago, asked in the hearing how the tax will meet the requirements for the intended purposes.

“[It’s a] 10-year commitment as I see it,” Brooks said. “I just wanted us to clear up that yes, this is going to meet the needs that we forecast or we are going to have to come to something else to fund these worthwhile programs.”

Olsen said that the tax would involve new programs, “so any existing program” is not part of it.

“If we wanted to put something new in our park, this would help fund it,” Olsen said, adding that if the city wanted something new for its swimming pool, the tax would help fund it.

“[A] committee of five members … decide on how it’s spent and then it’s approved by the city council,” Olsen said.

“Basically the community” decides where to spend these funds, as it’s a committee that makes the decision, Councilman Sam Draper said.

Brooks asked if the tax is “already” in Ephraim.

“Ephraim is voting on it this year,” Olsen said, adding that most of the cities in Utah County, including Spanish Fork, Santaquin and Mona, have the tax.

“Once you have your one-year money,” you can “build one specific project and fund it over the next nine years,” Olsen said.

Brooks asked if the tax is managed by the state.

“It’s managed by the city,” Olsen said. He then pointed out that if you are shopping anywhere outside of Sanpete County currently, odds are you are paying the RAP tax. Olsen also said for the second time in a meeting that he was sitting in a Costco parking lot, watching people pour into the store, and realizing how much RAP tax revenue could be generated.

Claudia Jarrett said, “I don’t see anything specific that you have as a goal.” She said that Mt. Pleasant has a “small sales base” and that the council is looking to put the tax on the ballot “right [in] the middle of a pandemic,” when the economy is down.

McDonald, in the hearing, said the RAP tax would be the fifth increase to the city’s sales tax since 2008.

“Revenue is freely earned. Taxes by government is taken,” McDonald said before saying that people on fixed income would be negatively impacted by the tax. McDonald claimed that elderly people and those on fixed incomes would “have to adjust their income.” McDonald said he doesn’t care how small tax is.

“It’s taken from the taxpayer,” McDonald said. “We don’t have a choice; it’s not a need; it’s for recreation.”

Keisel said that recreation is needed, citing his experience of having coached for 30 years at North Sanpete High School.

McDonald said, “The city doesn’t need to provide it,” saying donations could cover it.

“Parents pay for kids,” Keisel said.

McDonald later asked if recreation is “as valuable as our utilities.”

Keisel said that the council is trying to help the youth and that the youth have been “penned up in their house” during COVID-19.

“[I’m] sorry you’ve taken offense,” McDonald said, noting the sharing of opinions.

“Does my opinion matter?” Keisel said.

“Your vote will matter,” McDonald said, stating that “people will remember” what that vote was regarding the RAP tax.

“[I] don’t think there is anything more valuable than our kids,” Keisel said.

“I think it’s hard to put a price tag on the life of a child,” Atkinson said. “Suicide rates are high in our state.”

Draper later said the tax should “go to the vote in November to see what the public thinks about it.”

Then Olsen asked hearing attendees: “Do you understand that this is just to put it on the ballot in November?”

“In my opinion, this puts it out to the public,” Draper then said. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to vote on it.”

“I’m on a fixed income and I would be happy to pay a penny more,” Brooks said.

Keisel said he is “sympathetic” to McDonald’s advocacy.

“So vote no, then,” McDonald said.

Keisel said they must consider not just seniors and that they can’t vote one way just because someone complains to the council.

City Recorder Jeanne Tejada pointed out that the tax is not just for recreation, but also arts and parks.

Other unnamed residents spoke in the hearing against the tax.