Utah taxpayers facing city, county and school tax hikes

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7 2013 6:35 p.m. MDT

Custodian Tim Griffith works in the custodial workshop at West Jordan Elementary School, accessible only by walking through a classroom or from outside, in West Jordan on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. The Jordan School District is asking for a 501 million dollar bond for schools. If they get it, West Jordan Elementary will be torn down and rebuilt.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — At a recent Salt Lake City School Board meeting, a parent dismissed a proposed tax increase as simply one "pizza night" each month.

Last week, a Jordan School District official compared the individual cost of a nearly $500 million bond to a daily candy bar or can of soda.

It's a common sentiment as policymakers and concerned citizens extol the large benefits a small contribution can make.

But Utahns may find themselves going without more than a monthly treat and a daily snack as school, city and county tax increases combine, targeting homeowners' wallets from all sides.

"It’s hard to believe that taxpayers will be willing to stomach these kinds of massive tax increases," said Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association. "We’ve got, statewide, 46 property tax increases separate and apart from bond proposals."

Van Tassell said the number of municipal tax increases is above average this year, but not an all-time high. In past years, there have been as many as 93 tax increase proposals statewide, he said.

But independent of the overall number of proposals, the year is unique in the size of individual requests, notably Jordan's half-billion-dollar bond, Van Tassell said.

"This is one of the largest bonds, certainly the largest bond proposal in my time with the association," he said of Jordan's proposal, which was approved Tuesday by the school board and will appear on the ballot in November.

If approved by voters, the bond will add an annual tax burden of roughly $240 for the average homeowner.

In addition to that cost, Salt Lake County residents are facing a $59 tax increase and an additional $18 for the county library system.

"Anytime people see a tax increase, it's not very palatable," said Michelle Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office. "We haven’t raised taxes in several years. We’ve really waited for the climate to improve in the county, and we’ve raised our taxes to the minimum we thought was necessary to continue our critical programs that people in the community rely on."

In Salt Lake City, a truth-in-taxation hearing will be held Thursday on a tax increase that translates to $70 each year for the average homeowner. On Tuesday, the Salt Lake City School District voted 6-1 to approve a $3.25 million tax increase that will cost the average homeowner $27.50 annually. Salt Lake City residents will also be subject to the countywide $59 increase, but will not pay the county library tax.

Other municipalities in Salt Lake County are also considering tax hikes, including Taylorsville and West Valley City, and Murray City School District is considering a tax increase that would cost the average homeowner $27 each year.

"Folks that are living in Salt Lake County are facing a multitude of proposed tax hikes," Van Tassell said. "It's disappointing that Salt Lake County seems to have an ever-increasing appetite to consume taxpayer dollars."

Sandy Riesgraf, spokeswoman for the Jordan School District, said the district is sympathetic to the constraints on residents' finances. But she said voters should consider the bond proposal separate from the tax increases levied by local government.

"Every household, they’ve only got so much money to go so far, but we hope they look at us independently because our needs are independent. They’re unique," Riesgraf said. "We need money to continue our job of educating students. We have to put them somewhere, and we need buildings now."

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