Sanpete proposes property tax hike
MANTI—The Sanpete County Commission has scheduled a public hearing for next Thursday, Nov. 3 on a proposal to raise county property taxes for the first time since 2004. The hearing will be at 6 p.m. in the east courtroom of the Sanpete County Courthouse.
The reason for the proposed increase is pretty simple, says Ilene Roth, county auditor. “All things have gone up. Revenues haven’t kept up with the rise in expenditures.”
The commission is proposing to raise the county tax rate 60 percent beginning in 2017. According to a Truth-in-Taxation notice published in this week’s Messenger (see the Election Section), applying the new rate would result in the county getting 56 percent more tax revenue in 2017 than it expects to receive in 2016.
The Truth-in-Taxation notice says the tax increase, if adopted, would raise taxes about $112 on a $150,000 home. The county tax on such a home would go from $201 this year to $314 in 2017.
According to the notice, the county levy on a $150,000 business would go up $205, from $356 this year to $571 in 2017.
The increase would apply only to the Sanpete County levy. The county is just one line item on the property tax bill. Property owners also pay taxes for school districts, municipalities and water districts, among other taxing entities.
Moreover, while property taxes are the largest revenue source, they account for less than half of the county budget. The county also relies on federal funds, including “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILT), road money from the state, grants, and fines and forfeitures, to name a few sources.
While school districts and municipalities have raised taxes and fees, Sanpete County has held the line for years, Roth says.
To do so, it has had to pull $2.5 million out of its reserves. And she projects the county will need to dip into savings another $440,000 by the end of 2016 in order to have cash to balance the final, adjusted 2016 budget.
“Our reserves are now at a critical low, and the ability to cover ongoing expenses, as well as unexpected expenses, must be addressed,” says a letter from county commissioners accompanying the Truth-in-Taxation notice.
The county is grappling with a number of things over which it has no control. Congress has not approved PILT funding, which brings in about $1.3 million. However, congressional representatives have promised that PILT will be renewed and the county will get its PILT check, even though the check is late.
But representatives have said Secure Rural Schools (SRS), another federal program that assists counties that have a lot of federal land, is gone. Up to now, the program has provided about $700,000.
Sanpete County, like other counties in Utah, faces what Roth calls an “unfunded mandate” growing out of passage of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The measure was passed by the 2015 Legislature.
One goal of the act was to reduce the number of people going to prison for drug offenses, since drug addiction is widely acknowledge to be a disease.
The act reduced what used to be felony charges for drug possession to misdemeanors. The result is that more people convicted of drug charges are serving their sentences in the Sanpete County Jail, with the county footing the bill.
Fewer people are going to prisons, which means the county, which has a contract to house state inmates, is getting fewer state inmates and consequently, getting less money from the Utah Department of Corrections.
Another big area of cost growth is human services. The county provides money to the Six County Association of Governments, which administers economic development, housing and emergency assistance programs.
Sanpete County also supports, and county residents receive services from, the Central Utah Health Department and Central Utah Counseling Center.
All of the charges from those agencies have gone up, Roth says. But the county believes the services “are vital to the well being of our citizens,” She says those expenses will take a big piece of any extra money coming from a tax increase.