Drawn by reports of a 19 percent tax hike, more than 100 Davis County residents jammed a public hearing Wednesday afternoon on the county's proposed 1990 budget.
As required by state law, the county published newspaper ads stating it plans to increase its property tax rate. County Auditor Ruth Kennington's ads stated the county's tax rate would jump 19 percent.But Commission Chairman William Peters told the crowd that jammed into the commission chambers that although the county's general fund will require a 19 percent tax hike, the overall county tax rate will increase by only 2 percent.
The general fund is only about 10 percent of the county's total budget, Peters explained. The tax hike translates into an increase of $15 per year for the owner of a $70,000 home.
Although many of the residents who spoke up at the hearing still opposed any tax increase, the explanation appeared to mollify some.
Peters also explained the county is faced with several major one-time expenses in 1990 and needs the extra money for those projects in addition to preparing to staff and operate the county's new jail, expected to open in October 1990.
Voters in Davis County two years ago approved the sale of $18.5 million in bonds to build the new justice complex in west Farmington, knowing that a tax hike would be imposed in 1990 or 1991 to help pay for it.
The property tax increase will raise about $1.2 million, of which $500,000 is set aside for the jail.
In his prepared budget message, Peters explained the county has to pay for a general election in November of next year, estimated to cost $125,000; needs to buy computer equipment, estimated at $250,000; will finish the interior of the new senior citizen center in Kaysville, estimated at $110,000; and is losing $200,000 in revenue from the county justice of the peace court.
He said the commissioners believe that once those one-time expenses are paid for, the additional tax revenue can be dedicated to the new jail's operation and no further tax hike will be needed in 1991.
The alternatives to raising taxes are to cut back on county services or dip into the county's reserve funds, Peters said.
While many department heads offered suggestions on where the county could cut back, most were aimed at departments other than theirs, Peters joked.
And the county has already reduced its total reserves over the last five years, he said, and any further reductions would affect the county's credit rating in the bond market and not be fiscally responsible.
County budget analyst LaMar Holt supplied financial information sheets to those attending showing Davis County's property tax rate is still below that of Salt Lake, Weber, and Utah counties.
The owner of a $70,000 home in Davis County paid a total of $812 in property taxes in 1989 and will pay $827 in 1990, according to Holt's estimate.
Commissioner Dub Lawrence, who ran for office last year promising no tax increase, said his suggestions to avoid raising taxes next year have been ignored during the past 2 1/2 months of budget work sessions by Peters and commissioner Gayle Stevenson.
Lawrence advocates using more of the county's existing surpluses, including its hospital bond interest fund and enterprise funds, to avoid a tax increase. He denied that reducing the county's surplus would affect its bond and credit rating.
Lawrence was prepared to give an alternative budget presentation but was stopped by Peters, who told him his input had already been considered by the commission and the hearing was for the general public to express its views.
That angered Lawrence, who was then given a time slot by one of the residents at the hearing. Lawrence said the three minutes was not sufficient and demanded 15 or 20, which Peters turned down, telling Lawrence he could stay after the hearing adjourned if he wished and talk to anyone who wanted to hear him.
The commission will hold a special commission meeting at 10 a.m. Friday to pass the final budget.
Of the nearly 30 people who spoke up at the hearing, about half criticized the tax increase. Seven or eight residents were complimentary to the commission on its approach to funding county government and the rest asked questions or requested clarification on the budget.