clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Utah County wants $22M tax hike on ballot with UTA caveat

UTA missed ballot deadline, but Utah County Commission may vote to put it on anyway

PROVO — Reluctant to replicate the transportation tax hike Utah County voters shot down in 2015 but also keen for a chance to increase local road funding, the Utah County Commission has voted to let voters decide this fall whether to implement a $22 million sales tax hike for transportation projects.

But that vote came with a condition — and one that Utah Transit Authority officials did not fulfill by the commission's deadline on Thursday.

And yet, the Utah County Commission may still decide to let the question go to the ballot, depending on how discussions go during another meeting on the issue Tuesday.

As an attempt to have more control over the portion of revenue UTA would collect from the 0.25 percent sales tax hike if it's enacted — which would equal about $8.8 million a year — commissioners voted Tuesday to put the tax hike question on the November ballot, but only if UTA officials sign an interlocal agreement requiring UTA to use its portion of the tax money only on Utah County projects.

The potential sales tax hike would mirror exactly what voters shot down in 2015 when it was on the ballot as Proposition 1, with revenue split 40 percent to cities and towns for road projects, 40 percent to UTA, and 20 percent to the county.

After Proposition 1 failed in major counties including Salt Lake County and Utah County despite a push to create more revenue for roads and transit for cities and counties that have struggled to keep up on projects, Utah lawmakers sought a way to give counties another shot at the tax hike.

The product: SB136, a bill that mandated sweeping structural changes to UTA in an effort to repair public trust of the scandal-riddled agency while also giving counties the power to resurrect Proposition 1 — either by a public vote or through action by their legislative bodies.

Calling the $22 million potential revenue a "big bribe," Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee said the commissioners were put in a tough spot after SB136 passed.

"(But) $22 million is nothing to sneeze at," Lee said. "So it becomes a serious conversation."

Yet if Utah County voters were confronted with a replication of Proposition 1, "I can almost tell you right now it's going to get shut down," Lee said.

So the commissioners sought a way to reconcile their dislike of SB136 while also taking advantage of an option that might give Utah County the revenue it needs to bring its roads up to par — and also pay off the debt the county incurred for its bus rapid transit system sooner.

The result was the interlocal agreement.

"If this is signed by the county and by UTA, it's not Prop 1. It's different," Lee said. "I think this is a compromise in which we can at least take it to the people and say, 'What do you think?'"

But even as the county commissioners readied to pass a resolution to put the question on the ballot contingent on UTA signing the agreement, commissioners were warned they were running out of time.

"This is something that must be done by Friday," warned Scott Hogensen, the county's deputy clerk/auditor during Tuesday's meeting, adding "if we have shilly-shallying around what we're going to do, it's going to delay getting everything programmed, everything printed and delay getting the ballots into people's hands, potentially."

Commissioners included a deadline of Thursday, Aug. 23, at 5 p.m., one day after UTA's board of trustees meeting on Wednesday.

But because the interlocal agreement wasn't included on UTA's agenda, UTA board Chairman Greg Bell shut down a discussion at the end of Wednesday's meeting, after criticizing Utah County commissioners for giving the board so little time.

"They give us a deadline of tomorrow night?" Bell said. "That's not even good faith."

UTA board member Andrew Jackson explained the commissioners were also under a tight deadline, but he relayed the message UTA would not be able to take action because it wasn't noticed on an agenda.

In an interview Friday, Lee acknowledged UTA missed the commission's imposed deadline, but said county officials have discussed the potential of bringing the topic up for discussion again during next week's meeting, so there might still be a chance the commissioners will place it on the ballot without UTA's official signature on the interlocal agreement.

The hope is, Lee said, UTA officials will eventually sign the interlocal agreement, based off of conversations between the county and UTA attorneys.

"We're hoping, kind of in good faith, that they'll take this seriously, because right now if we throw it on the ballot as Prop 1 again, it dies," Lee said. "It's just not going to pass."

Lee said he still has a "major concern" that UTA might not actually sign off on the interlocal agreement, but whether or not Utah County moves forward with the ballot question will be up to Tuesday's discussion.

"If they don't sign it, then we've got Prop 1, and I'm telling you," Lee said, "it'll probably die a miserable, miserable death."