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IRON COUNTY MAKING MUCH ADO ABOUT POSSIBLE TAX TO HELP ARTS

SHARE IRON COUNTY MAKING MUCH ADO ABOUT POSSIBLE TAX TO HELP ARTS

The controversial arts tax, booed off stage in Salt Lake County, hasn't taken its final bow in southern Utah.

Officials in Iron County - home of the popular Utah Shakespearean Festival - still are interested in a countywide vote on an arts tax despite its crushing defeat in the state's capital.They had better hurry. The Utah Taxpayer's Association and its leader, state Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, hope to repeal the law when the Legislature convenes in January.

Voters in Salt Lake County blew off the proposed one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase solely for the benefit of the arts, despite a strong lobbying effort. The Utah Legislature approved the tax last year, but only after rural lawmakers made sure it would be implemented on a county-option basis.

"It does still have some merit for us," said Iron County Commissioner Robert Gardner. The key is the Shakespearean festival, he said.

"Pretty much everyone realizes it is a major economic benefit to us," he told The Salt Lake Tribune.

And there is another factor in favor of the tax, said festival founder Fred Adams.

"The perception in Salt Lake County was that it was a tax to help the rich at the expense of the poor," Adams explained. "Down in Iron County everybody is poor, so that dichotomy doesn't exist."

The festival on the Southern Utah University campus has grown steadily since it was founded in 1961.

Its summer season of plays, seminars, smaller shows and feasts brought 122,469 paid admissions in 1992 for a total contribution to the Iron County economy of $20.8 million.

That is not lost on Cedar City's business community, said Randy Phillips, vice president of the local First Security Bank and head of the chamber of commerce.

"It fills motels, service stations, restaurants," Phillips said. "Most of our business people would be receptive to considering the tax, especially if it helped the festival."

Gardner said Iron County commissioners only would put the measure on a ballot after public hearings. That leaves them just five months, if Stephenson has his way.

There are no reliable figures on how much the tax would generate in Iron County. But Adams said the money would help with current plans to triple the festival's capacity and extend the season.

Festival organizers want $1.6 million from the Legislature to buy land around the two 800-seat theaters it uses now.

It's all aimed at directing the mostly out-of-state theatergoers into Cedar City's downtown.