Although an attorney general's opinion is still pending, the refusal of the State Tax Commission to collect the quarter-cent sales tax for the Utah Transit Authority in certain unincorporated areas of Tooele County appears to be little more than bureaucratic nit-picking.)Last November, citizens in Tooele, Granstville and some unincorporated - areas of Tooele County lying between those towns and the Salt Lake County border, voted by a margin of more than 3-1 to establish a UTA transit district and accept a quarter-cent addition to the sales tax.
But the Tax Commission refused to levy the tax in the unicorporated areas on the grounds that not all voters in the county specifically those outside the proposed transit district had taken part in the election as required by state law.
State law clearly says that transit districts can be set up in portions of counties, but the section on imposing a sales tax contains language that "all" qualified voters in a county, city or town must give their approval for such a tax. At least that is the way the Tax Commission views it.
Merrill F. Nelson, a state representative from Tooele County, says that such a reading is "strained and overly technical." That seems to be an accurate assessment.
As Nelson points out, the language of the law requires approval of all voters in a county, city or town because annexations usually occur in such increments. However, the point of the statute is that, whatever the area annexed, the tax must be approved by the voters within that area.
The statute nowhere says that a tax cannot be imposed only on a part of a county if only a portion is annexed. Coupled with sections of the law allowing transit districts to be established in portions of counties, the meaning seems clear. If people in a certain area want to set up a transit district and impose a tax on themselves, all of the residents in the proposed district should be allowed to vote on it.
That appears to be simple common sense. Using the word "all" to mean everybody else in the county is less reasonable.
Because of this dispute, the Legislature changed the language of the law in a special session last April to clearly explain that voting on such transit sales taxes can take place in only a portion of a county.
But the Tax Commission says that a law changed in April cannot be ap plied to an election the previous November. That's true in most cases, but in this instance, the language merely seems to have been clarified to show legislative intent.
Voters in Tooele County have clearly spoken, the Legislature has spoken and everybody seems to want the same thing.
Disputes over legal details can often be crucial in serving some larger purpose. But not in this case. If residents of the newly created UTA transit district in Tooele County have to go back and hold another election to satisfy some technical niceties, it would cost a lot of money and wouldn't change a thing. So why force it?