OREM — In the eight years that Orem's culture and recreation tax has been in place, almost $13 million has been collected for programs and projects. The tax is up for renewal on Nov. 5, and recipients of the funds are counting on voter support.
Proponents say the money raised from the 0.1 percent sales tax has enriched the lives of thousands of children and made allies of competitors.
Jim Murphy, chairman of the board of the Hale Center Theater Foundation, said the money has made it possible for Hale Theater to more than double the number of productions that involve and teach youths.
The tax revenue paid for upgrades and maintenance of technical equipment and allowed both the SCERA Center for the Arts and Hale Center Theater to work more closely with schoolchildren, helping them see what goes on behind the shows and understand what's involved in creating a production.
"It's really been a good thing," Murphy said. "We've come to view each other as partners. We are collaborative, supportive of each other and of the recreational opportunities.
"That's why I'm optimistic that Orem residents will vote for its renewal."
The CARE tax — for "cultural arts and recreation enrichment" — is a sales tax of 1 cent on every $10 spent in Orem. The city then allocates funds to educational and community programs provided by private organizations or to improve public facilities.
State law requires voters to initially approve the tax — which Orem residents did in November 2005 — and then the tax must be renewed by voters after eight years.
Adam Robertson, CEO of the SCERA, said the tax money allows the arts in Orem to "thrive and not just survive."
Robertson said the additional funding helps keep the price of event tickets within reach of families and allows the SCERA to offer free tickets and admission to low-income patrons to programs in art education, dance, music and theater.
Prior to imposition of the CARE tax, the SCERA had about a dozen programs for 200-300 children. Today there are 60 programs for 18,000, Robertson said.
"A city rich in cultural activity is undeniably prosperous," he said. "It's something businesses look for when they're looking to locate within a community."
Mary Street, whose name is on the November ballot for City Council, said she supports the tax, as does candidate Tom Macdonald, who said it's a good thing for Orem overall.
David Spencer, also a council candidate, said the CARE tax is a perfect example of letting the public decide it it wants a tax. He does, however, want some adjustment made in how money is allocated.
Candidate Sharon Price Anderson said she believes there are better ways to provide arts and recreational opportunities than taxing everyone.
Jared Jardine, a candidate for Orem's City Council in the primary election, said he originally opposed the tax because he felt it was a tax designed to bail out local theaters and he's gone on record as opposed to bailouts.
Mayoral candidate Chris Nichols said he can’t overemphasize the importance that the CARE tax has had in Orem, while his opponent, Richard Brunst, says the tax has disappointed him.
"I do not believe the reality has lived up to the intent of the citizens" Brunst posted on his campaign website. "I can no longer personally support the CARE Tax without better oversight and management of our families' hard-earned tax dollars."
Allocation is based on need and, in coming years, will be split 50/50 between cultural and recreational projects and programs.
In the past eight years, the CARE tax money paid for improving ball fields, expanding and improving parking areas by the Lakeside Sports Park, erecting a commemorative statue in Nielsen's Grove park, expanding the leisure pool in the city recreation center, purchasing of a home near SCERA Park for additional land and allocating money for the Arts Education/Center for Story (addition to the library).
There were 23 mini-grants awarded of $5,000 or less, four major grants awarded, city awards given (for the City Center Park performance stage), upgrades made to the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre that included handrails on the hill, the move of the Heritage Museum and requests granted from the Utah Baroque Ensemble, the Utah Regional Ballet, the Colonial Heritage Foundation, the Orem Chorale and consideration for a future children's museum.
Without voter approval for a renewal, the CARE tax will expire on April 1, 2014.