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Sales tax change among local issues

Taxes, fluoride votes, ambulance services. Those were among the issues watched closely by local governments during the 2003 session of the Legislature.

The most controversial proposal was a major change in the way sales taxes would be collected. Originally, SB147 would have distributed sales tax based solely on where the merchandise was delivered, not sold, sucking large amounts of sales tax revenue from small cities with a large retail sector. Supporters said the so-called streamlining of the sales tax was necessary to collect taxes on Internet sales.

But in the end, changes to SB147, allowed cities to continue collecting a 1 percent local option sales tax on anything sold to Utah customers within their city, even if the item is delivered to a different city.

The bill passed the House, 58-14, Wednesday and will not take effect until July 1, 2004.

"We know we're going to be studying it this year, and watching what other states do," Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said. "There are still a lot of issues to resolve."

Among the counties and cities, Salt Lake County was especially active, pushing almost a half-dozen bills. With the passage of SB180, the county will now have a chance to provide ambulance service, although a compromise with the current ambulance provider, Gold Cross, means that there will have to be a competitive bid process.

Fire service will also change, as SB72 will allow the creation of a special service district for fire departments, a change the county had wanted to better secure their borders.

Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman and Republican county councilors will also have to continue to work with (or battle) District Attorney David Yocom. A bill that would have eliminated Yocom's elected position in favor of an appointed attorney never made it to a hearing and will instead be studied during the upcoming interim meetings.

The county also helped change the structure of the zoo, arts and parks tax distribution, setting a limit on the number of larger tier I organizations, almost doubling the funding for smaller tier II groups and allowing Tracy Aviary to begin receiving some of the money earmarked for zoos. The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate Wednesday night, was amended to require an election to authorize the restructured distributions.

"The two highest priorities for Salt Lake County, the ambulance bill and the fire district, were approved by the Legislature this year," Deputy Mayor Alan Dayton said. "We were more active and we were more successful."

Other changes for local governments:

Counties will have more control of libraries, although elected officials will not decide the content of a library collection.

Fluoride votes can now happen every four years, setting up the possibility of perpetual votes on the controversial water treatment.

Annexations that cross county lines will require more negotiations between the affected counties.

Local governments can now set, in ordinance, punishments for elected officials who miss meetings.