SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Bradley entered the lion's den Tuesday when he agreed to speak at a Utah Taxpayers Association conference on the county's new law enforcement fee.
The association has been vocal in its opposition to the new charges and has lambasted the county for couching a tax in "fee's clothing."
On Tuesday, however, Bradley had no qualms about calling the fee a tax, and while acknowledging the idea has been "extremely controversial," he said it was the best solution to a funding dilemma instigated by drastic reductions in county sales tax collections.
"I would argue that it is the best piece of public policy that you've seen when it comes to taxation," he said. "It's the most transparent tax you'll pay."
Bradley pointed out that other methods of collecting revenues for municipal services, such as the franchise fees cities attach to energy bills, hide true costs from residents.
With the new bill from Salt Lake County, which helps subsidize the $20 million it costs for its share of the newly formed Unified Police Department, "you're paying, and you know exactly what it's for and where it goes," he said. "That's pretty good."
Tax attorney and Utah Tax Review Commission member Mark Buchi countered that the county, while given the power to collect the fee by the Utah Legislature, had upended the intent by substituting the charges for a contribution from its revenue funds.
"This system has been substituted in an inappropriate manner," Buchi said. "I believe the way it works subverts state tax law."
In his presentation, Buchi cited sections of Utah code that he believes are being violated by the county program and said it needed to come to an end.
"I would submit that we ought to encourage Salt Lake County officials to sunset this," he said. "And if they don't do it, the Legislature should."