SALT LAKE CITY — The Senate passed a bill Monday meant to ensure large tax devaluations don't go unnoticed, inspired by the property tax appeal Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium won years ago resulting in millions in tax savings.
After no debate, the Senate voted 27-0 to pass SB101. It now goes to the House.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said in an interview Monday he's concerned that such a large tax evaluation went unnoticed for years until media reports brought it to light.
"As citizens, we have the right to hold our government accountable, but we can't do that if they operate in the dark," Fillmore said. "We just need to shine a light on what we're doing, make sure what we're doing is done in the full light of day, so our constituents, the people that elect us to safeguard their money, can hold us accountable."
In the stadium's first year of devaluation, its land and building value dropped from $98.1 million to $57 million, according to county tax documents.
"That's a $50 million tax adjustment," Fillmore said. "That's going to affect every taxpayer."
Under Utah code, local governments can raise rates when overall valuations go down to produce the same revenue as the previous year, meaning when large appeals are won, other taxpayers must offset the reduced payments, resulting in a tax shift.
In the stadium's case, involved taxing districts that experienced that shift included Sandy, Salt Lake County, the Canyons and Jordan school districts, and other water and sewer districts, according to county documents.
The stadium's property tax value was slashed by nearly half after Real Salt Lake won an appeal to bring the stadium's building and land tax bill down from $1.45 million in 2011 to about $908,000 in 2012. In 2017, its tax bill was about $688,000.
In the roughly six years since the tax devaluation, Real Salt Lake has saved an estimated $5.4 million in property taxes, according to county tax documents.
"The thing that gets me about this," Fillmore said, is the tax appeal went largely unnoticed, flowing through both the assessor's office and County Council without catching public attention.
County Council meeting minutes show no record that the stadium appeal was specifically discussed, as it was lumped in among more than 700 other evaluations proposed by the assessor's office.
County Councilman Steve DeBry, who was on the council at the time of the appeal, has said he couldn't remember it "at all," but he wished it had been more on the radar of board members for discussion.
SB101, Fillmore said, would require a county board of equalization to list any substantial valuation change separately on an agenda.
A "significant adjustment" to property valuation is defined in the bill as a change that would result in a valuation that differs from the original assessed value by at least $1 million and more than 20 percent of the previous value.
No one spoke in opposition to the bill.