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MAYOR GROUP WANTS TO JOIN IN EFFORT TO REFORM TAX CODE AS IT AFFECTS CITIES

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The Conference of Salt Lake Valley Mayors on Thursday said it wants to join the efforts of the Utah League of Cities and Towns and the state legislative Audit Committee in reforming the state's tax code as it affects municipalities.

Municipal tax structure as set up by the state Legislature has been discussed extensively at recent conference meetings, but Thursday's move is the first concrete measure the mayors have made to address the issue.However, whether the Legislature will be willing to deal with the taxation issue during the next legislative session is unclear. Conference chairman and South Salt Lake Mayor Randy Fitts said the mayors would like to concentrate their efforts on reforming franchise, property and road taxes.

Several mayors attending Thursday's meeting said they feared the costs and complications of I-15 reconstruction would stifle legislators interest in reforming the way road taxes are figured. Some said the Legislature may have grossly underestimated the costs of the I-15 project, which conference lobbyist Craig Moody, a former state House speaker, said might eventually eat up 20 percent of the state's budget.

"I think they're going to be in great shape until they see the bill," Fitts said.

Beginning next year, the Legislature will also have to pick up the tab resulting from the recently passed federal welfare reform bill, which Moody predicted could cause a dramatic increase in state funding requirements.

As in previous meetings, Fitts stressed the need for a broad-based approach that would give cities a great deal of latitude to pick and choose the tax structure that best fits their particular situation. Long-settled areas with substantial business bases might want to rely on sales taxes for revenue; while bedroom communities might use property taxes.

Moody urged a united approach to the taxation issue involving the league and the Salt Lake County Council of Governments. He said whatever the cities and counties decide on tax reform, the Legislature will be more amenable to consider a proposal that is all-inclusive.

"You will find the legislature 100 percent easier to deal with with a complete solution and not a partial one," he said.

In other matters, the conference decided to study a proposal to make the organization a legal entity and forgo its current configuration as an informal monthly gathering. Many members present expressed the opinion that such a move would give the conference's actions more clout.