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Utah County votes to raise property taxes for first time in 23 years

Utah County Commission OKs 67.4% hike to county portion of property taxes

Tax day is almost here. Here’s how much taxes different income brackets pay and what they think about that amount. iStock

PROVO — Utah County is set to raise property taxes for the first time in 23 years.

The Utah County Commission on Tuesday voted 2-1 to adopt a budget with a 67.4% tax hike on the county’s portion of property taxes — an increase that will raise an additional $19.3 million. The hike brings the county’s 2020 budget to roughly $104 million.

The impact of the tax hike on the average Utah County home valued at $334,000 will be an increase of about $7 more a month, or about $83 more a year on the resident’s property tax bill.

The vote for the tax hike came after residents showed up in force against any property tax hike, including more than a hundred attendees at a public hearing last week and dozens more Tuesday morning urging commissioners to vote no and to limit government spending instead.

The commissioners agreed to revisit the decision in June during truth-in-taxation hearings and determine if additional revenue may be available from a potential sale of the North County Equestrian park, which is under consideration.

Resident Blaine Thatcher urged commissioners to reduce government spending rather than raising taxes. He said people are already being taxed to their limits as other entities propose tax increases.

“I believe we are fast approaching the citizens’ actual ability to pay more in taxes,” Thatcher said. “We’re being hit on every front, and I think it’s really a big problem. We’re really approaching maxing out our actual taxing ability, and when that really happens, government will be forced to reduce spending.”

But County Commissioner Tanner Ainge proposed the tax hike, along with cuts, to put Utah County on a more sustainable financial path and address years of “irresponsible management” by previous county officials who let the tax rate decrease year after year and chip into the county’s purchasing power.

“When I ran for office, I committed to always balancing the budget,” Ainge told the Deseret News in an interview Wednesday. “Utah County for the last three years, we’ve engaged in deficit spending, depleting our reserves in the rainy day fund. I find that to be fundamentally irresponsible.”

So this year, through a combination of “cutting spending and adjusting revenue,” Ainge said, Utah County will for the first time in three years “end deficit spending and start saving for the future.”

Acknowledging taxpayer outrage, Ainge said, “I completely understand and empathize with the anger and frustration.”

“Unfortunately, I think when you’re doing the right thing it’s not always popular,” Ainge said. He added that when he explains the issue to county residents, many walk away understanding “why this is necessary.”

The last time Utah County raised property taxes was in 1996. Utah County, even though it is Utah’s second most populous county, ranks as near the bottom in the state for revenue collected from taxes and fees per capita, according to the Utah Taxpayer’s Association. Only Washington County ranks lower.

The Utah Taxpayer’s Association earlier this month issued a statement in support of a tax rate adjustment in Utah County, but lower than a previously proposed 100% tax hike.

The association cited Utah County’s dwindling tax rate, which has dropped 72% from 0.001305 to 0.000370 this year, as “not sustainable.”

“Due to lack of foresight for decades by previous members of the commission, Utah County has only once in 33 years taken steps to restore purchasing power in their property tax revenue,” the Utah Taxpayer’s Association’s statement said. “That failure to act has now put the county at a tipping point.”

The association said new growth has benefited the county in recent years, bringing in new property tax revenue, but population growth and inflation has outpaced that.

“Because of this, Utah County has been deficit spending by over $8 million over the last several years, avoiding fiscal responsibility. Again, this is not sustainable,” the association said, recognizing the “need for an adjustment in property taxes” while also urging commissioners to “trim budget requests and prioritize spending” to reduce the proposed tax hike.

Utah County officials previously noticed to taxpayers an up-to 100% property tax hike. Ainge later proposed a 69% increase, which was lowered on Tuesday to 67.4% as the commissioners made several more cuts to the tune of almost $500,000.

Those cuts included $200,000 from the county’s justice court, $105,000 from economic development, $103,000 from the auditor/clerk’s office, and thousands more snipped from various other areas including about $20,000 for the sale of about four county vehicles.

Most controversial of the cuts was $66,000 from a STEM portion from the county’s 4-H program, which drew opposition from several residents passionate about the program. Ultimately, commissioners opted to cut the program.

“This county is just doing the basics,” Ainge said. “We’re trying to do essential services and that’s it.”

Commissioners Ainge and Nathan Ivie ultimately voted in support of the tax hike and the county budget. Commissioner Bill Lee voted against.

Lee told the Deseret News on Wednesday he believed smaller adjustments over time would be more palatable for residents, while also saying he believed the county’s budget problems could have been addressed in other ways. He said he favored a different approach, such as asking residents to vote on general obligation bond for capital expenses that would eventually expire, rather than raising taxes.

“I’m disappointed,” Lee said, noting county residents turned out in “mass numbers” to oppose the tax hike. “They are highly disturbed by it, and I don’t know what they do from here ... They’ve got tax fatigue. And not just tax fatigue, but also fee fatigue. They see everybody reaching into their pockets, and it’s boiling. And I see it across the state now too. I see it in our county, other counties, and I don’t know where it goes but it’s a dilemma that’s going to have to be dealt with.”