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Nearly 90,000 Salt Lake County residents could see a new property tax charge next year

The Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance to allow accessory dwelling units, also known as mother-in-law apartments, citywide.
Following an election year of ballot initiatives with potential sales tax hikes — on top of an already approved $58 million tax hike for transportation projects — nearly 90,000 Salt Lake County residents may see another kind of tax hike.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Following an election year of ballot initiatives with potential sales tax hikes — on top of an already approved $58 million sales tax hike for transportation projects — nearly 90,000 Salt Lake County residents may see another kind of tax hike.

And, on top of that, maybe a new monthly fee.

The Greater Salt Lake Municipal Services District — a relatively new agency created in 2015 to provide services to Salt Lake County's five metro townships and unincorporated areas — is considering whether to start collecting property taxes to help fund road repairs and maintenance.

The tax hike, if approved after a December budget hearing, would give certain Salt Lake County residents a brand new property tax bill, estimated to be about $193 a year for a home with a taxable value of $275,000, according to the service district's estimates.

Salt Lake County leaders are also considering implementing a new stormwater fee estimated to be about $8 a month — and it's up to the metro townships' officials and the Salt Lake County Council to decide whether to levy the new fee on township and unincorporated residents.

As mailers informing residents of the potential tax hike begin to hit mailboxes, some county residents and leaders are already pushing back.

"The people I represent feel that, boy, this has gotta reach a point where you say enough is enough," said Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove, who represents unincorporated residents as a member of the municipal service district.

Snelgrove in a statement issued late last week took an official position against the proposed tax hike and stormwater fee, noting that Salt Lake County residents have been feeling the effects of many recent tax increases from school, police and fire districts — and could be feeling more if a gas tax for schools and Medicaid expansion get approval from voters in November.

"As a custodian of the public purse, I must judge whether it is more important that the taxpayers keep their money in their pockets or give it to the government. In this case, I feel that we should allow the citizens to keep more of their hard-earned dollars."

Snelgrove's comments came after Ron Faerber, chairman of the League of Unincorporated Community Councils — which represents communities that make up unincorporated Salt Lake County — sent a letter to the service district and other county leaders in opposition to the tax hike and stormwater fee.

Faerber noted unincorporated county residents already pay taxes for several other taxing districts, including Unified Police Department, Unified Fire Authority, Salt Lake County, Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District, and school districts.

"When you have all these agencies … it has a compounding effect, and it just costs the residents way too much money," Faerber said.

Currently, the service district doesn't collect property taxes, using only sales tax revenue to pay for contracts with agencies to provide public works, animal services, planning and development, engineering, parks and court services.

The property tax hike would create an estimated $3 million a year in new revenue for the service district — money that would be used to better fund road repair and maintenance, said Bart Barker, the district's general manager.

"Roads have been underfunded now since the recession in 2008," Barker said, noting that Salt Lake County was in charge of township and unincorporated road repair up until the service district was formed in 2015.

For years now, there has simply not been enough money to maintain roads at a "non-deteriorating level," Barker said, noting that only about 50 percent of the service district's roads are of good quality.

The aim, if the property tax hike passes, would be to prevent the service district from facing what Salt Lake City is currently dealing with, now looking to voters to approve an $87 million bond to help pay for road reconstruction, with an estimated two-thirds of the city's roads in poor or worse condition.

"What it really comes down to is do we want to pay for that as we go, or do we want to wait until the roads are so bad we have to do a bond like Salt Lake City, and it costs more?" Barker said. "It's a real issue."

Additionally, the stormwater fee is being considered to free up about $3 million now going from storm drain budgeting to fund roads, Barker said, while the service district also faces a "crumbling infrastructure" within its storm drain system.

"This is not a done deal," Barker added, noting elected officials will need to decide on both the tax hike and the stormwater fee.

The municipal service districts' board members votes are weighted based on population. Snelgrove, representing nearly 12,000 residents, is the third-heaviest vote. Kearns Metro Township Mayor Kelly Bush, representing nearly 38,000 residents, has the heaviest vote.

Bush said she wasn't sure yet of her stance on the tax hike. She did say, however, that she understood the district's need for revenue other than the sales tax it currently collects.

"With us just getting sales tax, that's not going to sustain us for so long," she said. However, implementing a property tax hike "is not something we want to do by any means. Obviously, we know this is not a favorable thing. However, it's something that might be inevitable."

Bush urged residents to reach out to board members and attend meetings to give input.

Public meetings for the stormwater fee are expected sometime toward the beginning of 2019, Barker said. The municipal services district will hold a truth in taxation public meeting Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. in the Salt Lake County Council Chambers, 2001 S. State.