Efforts of some 400 Richfield residents who signed a petition to get tax issues on the ballot and rescind action by the City Council may have been in vain.
The Utah attorney general's office has ruled that budget matters or tax levies are solely the responsibility of city officials and citizens can't initiate action opposing that of the council.The issue came to a head several months ago when the City Council approved a 3 percent utilities franchise tax and a one-fourth cent sales tax.
Many citizens objected, asking the council to rescind its action. When the council refused to do so, a movement was started to get the issue on the ballot.
Former City Councilman Paul Turner and businessman Randy Christensen organized WAIT (We're Against Increased Taxes) and obtained 400 signatures on a petition requesting the people be allowed to decide the issue at the general election.
City Attorney Ken Chamberlain questioned whether the petition was filed at the city office in the time required by law before the election. He requested a ruling form the attorney general's office.
"Validity of Richfield City Ordinance 1989-1 imposing a franchise tax cannot be challenged by initiative petition," it was ruled. Brent H. Cameron, assistant attorney general, also said that, "The legal voter of any county, city or town may not initiate budgets or changes in budgets, or tax levies or changes in the levies."
Chamberlain said he believes the ordinance referred to by the attorney general's office constitutes revenue-raising measures and therefore would be a tax and budget item. "It is my opinion that it would not be legal under the terms of the statute cited to place either of the referendum propositions on the ballot," he said.
In approving the tax measures, council members pledged to earmark most of the revenue for much-needed street repair and maintenance. Citizens had listed streets as the No. 1 need of the city in a recent poll.
Salaries of police officers were raised by as much as $3,000 annually, and other city employees also received salary increases, the first in four years.
The franchise tax will raise about $140,000 annually and the sales tax will raise about $155,000.
Reacting to attorney rulings, Turner said that not allowing taxpayers recourse is contrary to constitutional principles and that taxpayers should be concerned about "a decision of this magnitude."
He said the law should be changed, claiming the economic well-being of Richfield suffered a major set-back by the ruling. "Apparently the citizens must abide by the actions of politicians on tax matters regardless of the consequences."
He said the WAIT committee will pursue options of getting Utah citizens to petition state legislators to introduce legislation that would correct "this unjust law in the Utah Code" and try to get the City Council to reverse its action until taking the matter to the people.
Turner is seeking a seat on the council again.