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County delay puts budgets on hold again

SHARE County delay puts budgets on hold again

If it ain't one thing, it's another.

For the second year in a row, complications in setting the certified tax rate have cities in Salt Lake County waiting on their county government at budget time.Cities must have certified tax rates given to them by their counties to set their final tax rates. Salt Lake County was supposed to give out the certified tax rates Monday, but cities are still waiting.

That leaves cities with two options: Go ahead and pass their budgets, making educated guesses on what the certified rate will be, or hang around and not pass the budget until they receive the rate information.

Murray and Taylorsville, for example, opted for the first alternative. That means they may have to reopen and amend their budgets very soon if their guesses are too high.

That's what Salt Lake City did last year, and wound up being caught $600,000 short. It had to do some scrambling to make up the shortfall.

So this year the Salt Lake City Council is going to wait. It was scheduled to pass its final budget Tuesday, but put that off because it doesn't have its certified tax rate.

The problem stems from the Legislature this year changing the way motor vehicles are taxed. Any difference in the fees collected under the new system would be made up to local governments by changing the certified tax rate, meaning as far as cities are concerned the tax revenue would be a wash.

But the state's calculations of how much the tax rate has to be changed differ from Salt Lake County's calculations - in the case of Salt Lake City, by up to $1 million.

"That's a lot of money," said Ken Connaughton, spokesman for Mayor Deedee Corradini.

State and county officials are trying to hash out the differences, but in the meantime Salt Lake City is sitting around waiting to pass its final budget.

City Council members aren't too happy about that because it's cutting into their vacation time. The final council meeting before members take a monthlong break was to be Thursday, but now it's looking like the break probably will be shortened.

By law, the cities have to have their final budgets passed by June 22, which means if the certified-rate delay drags on things could get dicey.

"It's a game you can't win," said Salt Lake budget director Steve Faw-cett.

Last year it was uncertainties in the taxing of "intangible" property of large, multicounty businesses that had counties and cities waiting for the State Tax Commission. Certified tax rates were set very late, setting cities back in passage of their final budgets.

Even more important than the legal deadline is June 30, when the fiscal year ends. If there isn't a budget in place by that time Salt Lake City would have to shut down operations - "turn out the lights," as Director of Management Services Roger Black put it.

But Councilman Roger Thompson, for one, is reluctant to take action until he knows for sure what the certified rates will be.

"I've learned that if you're going to give out bad news, only do it once," he said.

County officials are hoping to get the certified rates out within a few days.