Commissioners hear support for tax increase at meeting with local mayors

Commissioners hear support for tax increase at meeting with local mayors


Suzanne Dean





FAIRVIEW—Sanpete County commissioners attending a Mayor’s and Commissioners meeting last week heard expressions of support for a proposed 60 percent increase in the county property tax levy.

At the meeting Thursday, Nov. 10 at the Fairview City Hall, Commission Chairwoman Claudia Jarrett and Commissioner Scott Bartholomew also described some of the input they have received and responded to some of the comments at a public hearing Nov. 3.

The county published a Truth in Taxation notice in October stating that it was proposing to raise its rates in order to bring in an extra $1.5 million in property tax revenue.

Based on current property valuations in the county, the current certified tax rate for general operations is .002280. The county commission is proposing to increase the rate  to .003648. That translates to an increase from 22.8 cents to about 36.5 cents on every $100 in assessed valuation, a 60 percent hike.

However, those figures are, at best, a “guestimate” says Illene Roth, county auditor. The rate could go up or down depending on the annual recalculation of property values, which will come in in mid-2017. The only thing that is fixed is the limit of $1.5 million in additional revenue.

The county is due to receive about $3 million in 2016. If the proposed increase is adopted, the county would bring in about $4.5 million.

Even then, property taxes would account for less than one-third of county revenue. Over the past three years, the county budget has ranged from $13.7 to $14.7 million.

“With the (proposed) tax increase, the county is still under the two school districts” in size of levy. “It’s still No. 3,” said Mayor Richard Squire of Ephraim.

The revenue the county would bring in, even with the increase, “is still pretty meager for the services it’s providing,” Squire said. “What would we prefer? Doing this, or needing emergency services (at some point) and they’re not there.”

Sheila Bringhurst, secretary for the Sanpete Cooperative Landfill Association and also coordinator of the Sanpete County 911 dispatch center, recalled 2011when all county employees took a week off without pay as an economy measure.

“You have cut,” she told commissioners. “We have gotten as lean as we can.”

Garry Bringhurst, administrator of the cooperative landfill, took issue with a comment at the public hearing. A resident said, “If the streets have to turn to dirt, let’s just do it.”

“If there’s a nicer place, a cheaper place to live (than Sanpete County), there’s a road in and a road out,” he said.

Bartholomew said if commissioners adopt the increase as proposed, it would cost the typical homeowner $10-$11 per month.

By state law, primary residences are taxed on 55 percent of their assessed value while business property is tax at 100 percent of value. So businesses will take a bigger hit than homeowners, he said.

“I talked to a business owner,” Bartholomew said. “They’d been in business three years and had just turned a $100 profit. This will wipe that out.”

Bartholomew, who owns both a home and a ranch property, said the increase would cost him personally about $500 per year.

Both commissioners responded to questions aired at the earlier tax hearing about pending fairgrounds improvements and about whether the county could have made money by selling the fairgrounds several years ago and building new fairgrounds in another location.

The county and fair board have raised about $1.4 million from a Utah Community Impact Board (CIB) grant, a foundation grant, and donations from businesses and private individuals. But as of early October, they were about $400,000 short of their $1.8 million budget for rebuilding the grandstand, and adding restrooms and other improvements.

The fair board is continuing to raise money. And it hopes to get substantial in-kind donations. But any shortfall could have to be made up by the county.

Bartholomew said any county contribution would be “such a minute thing it isn’t going to be an issue.”

Jarrett said the proposed relocation of the fairgrounds had been hashed out years ago, and the commission at that time chose to keep the fair in Manti.

She added that no appraisal was ever conducted to determine the value of the fairgrounds, so the notion that the county could have made money by selling the property was never verified.

“The reason we’re so passionate about the fairgrounds is because it’s our heritage,” she said. “…It’s a way to bring the various factions of the county together at the county seat.”

But she said of the 90-year-old grandstand at the fairgrounds, “It’s failing. It’s a tremendous liability,” which is why it needs to be replaced.