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RESTAURANT-TAX `PIE' WON'T GO FAR THIS YEAR

After the Utah County Commission dishes out its Community Action Grants, leftover proceeds of the 1 percent restaurant tax, some cities will likely leave with empty plates.

For four years commissioners have distributed those grants to celebrations like America's Freedom Festival at Provo, as well as projects like the continuing renovation of the Springville Art Museum. In the past, those celebrations and projects have gotten as much as $400,000 per year. But other county obligations have forced the commission to pare that amount considerably this year.This week, the commission closed the 1995-96 county budget, leaving just $50,000 for the grants. And commissioners say that, besides the annual bond payments on the David O. McKay Events Center, the restaurant-tax proceeds will help pay for seats at the events center and for the county's participation in a trail project.

Commission Chairman Jerry Grover has opposed use of the restaurant-tax dollars for the grants, saying that any such funding should come from the county's hotel tax instead. Last year, the commission augmented the community grants with surplus money from the Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is funded by the county's hotel tax. But this year there is no such surplus in the bureau's budget.

Grover said the county will have to begin payments on the Provo-Utah County ice sheet next year and hopes to open its new security center as well, so the commission needs to spend its money carefully.

"I don't think you should spend your money just because you have it," he said. "People look at me like I'm the ogre on this issue. I don't want to obligate future commissions to projects that we can pay off now."

Commissioner Gary Herbert, though, said he hopes the county's financial picture turns out to be rosier so the commission can grant at least double the amount.

"Even if we give out less it won't stop the cities from applying for the grants," he said. "It will just make it more of a fight for them to get the money."

Herbert said he would like to revisit the budget at a later date, if he is able to come up with ways to increase the grant money.

Commissioners are expected to award the grants in June after Commissioner David Gardner and a review committee have evaluated the grant applications, which are due at the end of May.