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RESTAURANT TAX FUELS BOOST IN WEBER REVENUES

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Weber County has ended the fiscal year with its largest fund balance in at least five years, thanks in part to a controversial restaurant tax, a county official said.

The annual comprehensive financial report for Weber County shows a better picture than expected for 1992, said auditor-clerk-treasurer Greg Haws.Lagging property tax revenues and a deficit in excess of $500,000 for jail operations had left the county facing a projected revenue shortfall of $1 million by midyear.

Instead, the county ended 1992 with its largest general fund balance, $1.2 million, since at least 1987.

"We are now enjoying a fairly healthy fund balance," Haws said. "I feel very comfortable with the way we ended up."

The increase in revenues was accounted for primarily in tax collections, including the new restaurant sales tax.

Total county governmental revenues for 1992 went up 16 percent from 1991, while expenditures went up just 3 percent, nearly bringing them into balance with all funds.

The $39.57 million in 1992 revenues nearly equaled the $39.58 million in expenditures. By contrast, 1991 revenues of $34 million were outstripped by expenditures of $38.5 million.

Although restaurants began collecting the tax in October 1991, the revenues did not begin moving into county coffers until the start of 1992, so the 1992 statements represent the first accounting of the controversial levy.

The county collected $1,007,928 in 1992, well over the $800,000 expected. But Haws said the extra $200,000 is accounted for by a switch from quarterly to monthly collections, begun under a law passed by the 1992 Legislature.

As a result, in 1992 the county collected the revenues for the last three months of 1991 and all of 1992 for the larger restaurants subject to the monthly payments.

By law, expenditure of the tax is limited to tourism, recreation, cultural and convention facilities.

Commissioners enacted the tax with an eye toward construction of a downtown conference and performing arts center in Ogden. But with that project still in the study phase, the majority of the 1992 collections - $700,000 - went toward construction of the Olympic ice rink under way at Weber State University.

A feasibility study for the conference center ate up $212,000, accounting for most of the remainder, and $37,500 went to operations of the Chamber Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Another $15,880 went for production of a glossy promotional brochure on the county, and $5,125 was spent for billboards directing freeway passers-by to the Air Force Heritage Foundation Museum at Hill Air Force Base, leaving an unexpended balance of $35,183.