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Davis County property owners are getting a tax increase for Christmas, but the "present" isn't as big as originally proposed.

During a meeting filled with accusations and divisiveness between Commissioner Dub Lawrence and commissioners Bill Peters and Gayle Stevenson, the Davis County Commission voted 2-1 to approve the 1990 budget of $45 million Friday morning.The $13.1 million general fund budget, up from last year's $10.7 million, includes a $780,000 property-tax increase. That means that an owner of a $70,000 home in the county can expect to pay $9.75 more next year in property taxes, Stevenson said.

The controversial property-tax increase was reduced by 35 percent from $1.2 million after a packed public hearing on Wednesday afternoon. Across the board, taxes will now increase by 1.2 percent rather than 1.9 percent.

LaMar Holt, the county's financial analyst, said the reduced tax increase meant the county's $200,000 contingency fund will be eliminated and a $108,561 budget surplus will be spent. The expectation that the county will collect $138,000 more in precinct court fees than earlier expected helped to reduce the tax increase.

During the meeting, Stevenson accused Lawrence of using the budget issue as a platform for his re-election campaign. He reviewed the budget process and said he was encouraged until Lawrence proposed that budget surpluses be used instead of raising taxes.

"It is an indefensible and ludicrous position to take in any sound budget process," Stevenson said, noting it would "sell down the river" former county administrations that had established the sound financial practices.

He said it also was a complete surprise when, as the tentative budget was approved, Lawrence said he had laid out alternative plans to avoid a tax increase.

"How can we stand by and watch this? This is most blatant abuse of the office of county commissioner to ever take place," Stevenson said. "Politicians make decisions toward the next election. Statesmen make decisions toward the next generation."

Lawrence said his actions merely reflected the people he represents and the campaign promises he made for no tax increases. He then said that Peters and Stevenson had denied his vote as a commissioner and his voice as both a citizen and a commissioner.

Citing the Wednesday public hearing, which he called a "charade," he said he only was allowed to speak when a resident yielded time to him. He said that he then was excluded from Peters' and Stevenson's budget reevaluation on Thursday.

Peters and Stevenson, with the help of the Davis County attorney's office, found a legal loophole and have "cheated me out of a right to vote as a member of a governing body," Lawrence said.

Stevenson's announcement at the Friday meeting was the first Lawrence had heard about the proposed changes in the budget. Since he had no time to study or evaluate the proposals he could not vote for them, he said.

"It is a sham, unnecessary, improper and unlawful. I really sincerely wish things were different. I wish the business of Davis County was above board and on the record." he said.

Lawrence said there are $4.7 million in surpluses in the county budget and there is no need for a tax increase. Those surpluses include its hospital bond interest fund and enterprise funds.


(Additional information)

What it means

-Where the 35 percent downsizing of the tax increase is coming from:

$200,000 - Elimination of a county contingency fund.

$138,000 - Unexpected precinct court fees.

$108,561 - Part of 1989 budget surplus.

-What it means to an owner of a $70,000 home in Davis County: A $9.75 yearly increase in property taxes instead of $15 under an earlier proposal. In 1989, taxes would have been $812. In 1990, they will be $821.75.

-Commission contention: Residents get 1.2 percent tax hike. Dissenting commissioner says he was silenced at a public hearing and barred from a Thursday budget discussion.