Commission approves $1.5 M tax hike and $14.6 M budget
MANTI—The Sanpete County Commission unanimously approved a $1.5 million property tax increase Tuesday, enacting the 60 percent increase in the certified tax rate the county advertised in October.
The commission then approved a $14.6 million budget for calendar 2017, just under $1 million more than it budgeted for the current year. But most of the extra $1 million will come from sources other than property tax.
“We took very seriously the comments that were made (at the public hearing on the tax hike),” Commissioner Claudia Jarrett said. “But when it came to building a budget, we had no choice. We had no place to go (except a tax increase).”
Under state law, a taxing entity decides, first, how much property tax revenue it hopes to raise. Then it figures out what tax rate is required to bring in that much revenue.
If property values go up, which could cause more property tax to come in than received the previous year, the taxing entity must either lower its rate to keep revenue stable—or advertise a tax increase.
“Our commissioners have known since 2004 that our rate was going down, down, down,” Ilene Roth, county auditor, said. “We kept trimming to meet that.”
Meanwhile, utilities, asphalt, insurance and a host of other costs over which the county has no control, kept rising. “We hit a hard spot,” Roth said, where static revenues no longer covered expenses, even after trimming.
Recently the other fiscal problem has fallen into the county’s lap. Long-time, significant revenue from non-tax sources has suddenly been cut.
In 2015, the county got nearly $700,000 from a federal program called Secure Rural Schools, designed to help keep up the roads school buses use to take children to schools in counties where a lot of the land is federally owned and pays no taxes. Congress is no longer funding the program.
Historically, the county has received more than $500,000 in federal mineral lease fees for minerals extracted within the county. Some of the extraction is from the Skyline Mine in Carbon County in areas where the underground mine crosses into Sanpete County.
But because energy prices have dropped, mining has declined, and the funding coming in has dropped by $375,000.
The result has been that the county, while showing a balanced budget on paper, has actually been running deficits.
That’s because the county has budgeted more for expenditures in a year than commissioners knew would be arriving in revenue during the year.
The commission has made up the difference by budgeting draws from county reserve funds. In both 2015 and 2016, the county budgeted more than $400,000 in revenue to come out of savings accounts, Roth said.
The result is that total county reserves are down to $1.3 million, far lower than, for instance, Ephraim City reserves.
The biggest single new expenditure for 2017 is a $200,000 deposit to reserve funds. But even as it is depositing, the county is budgeting a draw from savings to make revenues and expenditures balance.
Aside from a start at replenishing reserves, the 2017 budget includes about a $160,000 increase in the Sheriff’s Office to cover two new deputies, one a general patrol deputy and one a jail corrections officer.
The budget includes $81,000 to cover the first-year costs of six new county vehicles, including three for the Sheriff’s Office, one for the jail for transporting inmates, one for the assessor’s office and one for the building inspector.
The county put $70,000 in new funding in the budget for maintenance and repairs to cooking, laundry and other equipment at the jail.
It added $48,000 to the budget to cover hikes in premiums for fire and liability insurance on buildings, and liability coverage for Search and Rescue volunteers, among other insurance increases.
The 2017 budget shows a $39,000 increase for the public works (the Road Department). Most of that is for pay and benefit increases for employees who have earned the raises because of their longevity, Roth said.
Finally, the county plans to spend $20,000 more than last year in a diverse budget category known as “health services.”
The county has budgeted for a $10,000 grant to the Sanpete Pantry, the nonprofit that provides emergency food assistance.
The new budget also shows small increases for the Central Utah Health Department, Central Utah Counseling Center, senior nutrition and senior center facilities around the county.