An $80,000 house in South Jordan's Glenmoor subdivision may look just like an $80,000 home in Murray. The mortgages may even be the same. But living in Glenmoor costs hundreds of dollars more per year.
That's because Glenmoor has the highest
local taxes in Salt Lake County. Murray has the lowest. In fact, the owner of the Glenmoor home would pay $383 more in tax per year than the owner of the Murray home.Other communities with high tax levies include the rest of South Jordan, Sandy, Salt Lake City, Draper and West Jordan. And the lucky areas with low taxes besides Murray include South Salt Lake, Alta, Herriman, Holladay and Olympus Cove.
While figuring out where taxes are less could save homebuyers hundreds of dollars a year, few residents ever are able to actually do such comparisons because local taxes and fees are complicated and take tremendous effort to sort out.
But when they are, a clearer picture emerges not only of which areas are less expensive to live in but also which local governments may be more efficient, which offer more extensive services and which ones are struggling and planning tax hikes.
THE TAX SYSTEM TAXES UNDERSTANDING - An example of the difficulty of sorting through the tax system can be seen in what it takes just to figure out how high property taxes are in different areas of Salt Lake County.
The county has 43 different local governments - including the county, cities, school districts, water districts, library districts, mosquito abatement districts, recreation districts and even a cemetery district - that charge property tax.
Their boundaries crisscross so much that they have created 208 different areas with different tax rates. Each area is called a tax district.
For someone to compare taxes in the county, one must obtain a map of tax district boundaries from the county assessor and a list from the county auditor of which governments charge taxes in each district and what their tax rates are.
Once the overall tax rate for an area is added up - for example, Salt Lake City's is 1.8804 percent of a home's assessed value - a crash course is required on how to figure the home's assessed, or taxable, value.
To demonstrate, if a house is worth $80,000 on the market, its assessed value is determined by first decreasing that amount by 20 percent so such things as real estate fees are not taxed. That resulting number is in turn decreased another 25 percent on houses to give homeowners a state-ordered tax break. So the assessed value of a home worth $80,000 on the market is $48,000.
In short, to finally figure the tax on an $80,000 home in Salt Lake City, multiply the tax rate - 1.8804 percent - by the assessed value - $48,000 - to come up with a total property tax of $903.
If that isn't enough work and difficulty, additional taxes and fees should be added on to give a true comparison of overall taxes in different areas.
For example, many cities charge taxes on utility bills - including local phone service, natural gas, electricity and cable television. Those taxes - plus such things as garbage collection fees - may greatly inflate overall taxes.
For example in Salt Lake City, such utility taxes and garbage collection fees add $126 in government bills for the average homeowner each year.
WHY TAXES DIFFER AREA TO AREA - Once the taxes are figured for each area, a clear picture emerges about why residents of some areas pay more in taxes.
The first reason is that some areas pay taxes to more local governments than others.
For example in South Jordan's Glenmoor subdivision, residents formed the Glenmoor Special Service District to operate recreational facilities there. That is why Glenmoor residents pay more in taxes than other South Jordan residents who are not part of that district.
Along the same lines, a boundary quirk allows residents in west Kearns to pay lower taxes than residents in east Kearns - even though they receive services from the same local governments.
It seems the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District - which wholesales water to the Kearns Improvement District - never annexed west Kearns. So residents there don't have to pay the $19 a year tax on an $80,000 home that the conservancy district charges. But they receive the same water service as residents in east Kearns.
Another reason that taxes differ in different areas is that the same types of some governments charge less than others.
For example, the four school districts in Salt Lake County vary significantly in how much tax they charge. Tax on an $80,000 home is $386 in the Murray School District, $388 in Salt Lake City, $431 in Granite and $436 in Jordan.
Jordan is fighting to keep up with rapid growth in south Salt Lake County and the need for new schools that it brings. Murray is a more stable area and isn't faced with as many such costs.
Also, taxes charged by the 12 cities in Salt Lake County range from a low of $56 in rural Bluffdale to a high of $210 in urban Salt Lake City.
The difference in those taxes lies in the sorts of services the cities provide.
For example, Salt Lake City taxes cover city water and sewer services, but Bluffdale's don't. Residents there have to pay additional taxes to the Salt Lake County Sewerage Improvement District No. 1 for those services.
Also, Salt Lake City has an extensive parks and recreation program, Bluffdale doesn't; Salt Lake City operates an aviary, Bluffdale doesn't; Salt Lake City has a full-time mayor, Bluffdale has a non-paid volunteer mayor. In short, Salt Lake City offers many services that smaller cities do not - but residents must pay for what they receive.
Also, higher property taxes charged by some cities may be a sign that they do not receive as much sales tax revenue as other cities.
For example, property taxes in Murray may be lower because it receives heavy sales tax revenue from the Fashion Place Mall and the many car dealerships lining State Street. Taxes may be lower in South Salt Lake because of the sales tax coming from the many industries there.
But "bedroom communities" such as Sandy and South Jordan receive relatively less in sales tax, which may be why their property taxes are higher.
BLAME THE RIGHT AGENCY FOR HIGHER TAXES - When residents hear they have high taxes, they often blame it on the city they live in. But figures show cities usually charge a relatively small portion of overall taxes.
The largest chunk of property tax is charged by school districts - which normally charge three to four times the tax of local cities.
Also, many recreation districts actually charge more than some cities.
For example, Salt Lake County Service Area No. 2 - which operates a spa in Cottonwood Heights - charges $81 tax on an $80,000 home. That is higher than the taxes charged in six cities in the county - Bluffdale, Draper, Murray, Riverton, South Salt Lake and West Valley City.
Some water districts also charge much more than cities. For example, the Magna Water Co. charges $94 on an $80,000 house - which is more than the taxes charged in seven of Salt Lake County's 12 cities.
Ironically, such water and recreation districts rarely receive much attention from the press, while cities that often have much smaller budgets do.
WATCH OUT FOR `PURPLE SMOKE AND MIRRORS' - Some politicians occasionally try to make taxes appear lower than they really are.
For example, some mayors have tried to encourage annexations to their cities by saying city property taxes are lower than the property taxes charged by Salt Lake County to provide citylike services in the unincorporated area.
The mayors were correct - but didn't mention the taxes on utilities that their cities also charge but which the county does not. When the total taxes were compared, county taxes were actually cheaper.
Such "purple smoke and mirrors" led Salt Lake County commissioners to seek permission from the state to impose its own utility taxes. When that failed, commissioners threatened to try to have all utility taxes declared illegal.
County commissioners, however, have been known in the past to also use a little sleight of hand. One once said unincorporated area property taxes were less expensive than one city's property taxes. It was true, but if the county's garbage collection had also been considered, the city charged lower taxes overall.
WHERE TAXES ARE GOING UP - When figuring out how much tax each area pays, it also becomes apparent which areas will pay higher taxes this year based on projected budgets given to county auditors in June.
The area where taxes will likely increase the most is West Jordan - and this time residents may blame the city government.
City property taxes are projected to increase $44 on an $80,000 home, or 40 percent. The city also plans to impose a 6 percent tax on utility bills beginning Oct. 1, which could cost an average homeowner $74 a year. In other words, total taxes would be up $118 in just one year.
Former Mayor Bob Roberts refused to vote for the budget calling for that huge increase and resigned from office because of it. The increase is to make up for lost revenues from other sources and to fund a variety of construction projects - mostly for roads.
The proposed increases aren't set in concrete yet, however. The city will conduct an Aug. 4 public hearing on the increases before voting whether to finally adopt on Aug. 9.
Taxes will likely go down the most in southern suburbs serviced by the Salt Lake City Suburban Sanitary District No. 1. It lowered its property tax rates a whopping 65 percent. The taxes it charges on an $80,000 home dropped from $71 last year to $25 this year.
District General Manager Emil Meyer said the decrease came because the district refinanced some construction bonds and received much better prices than anticipated on some projects. Some old bonds are also almost paid off.
Taxes are also going down in Alta, where the town paid off some old general obligation bonds and lowered its tax rate 8 percent, Mayor William Levitt said. That will save the owner of an $80,000 home about $12 a year.
Levitt complains that the county is saying Alta is really raising taxes, however, because county auditors say the new lower rate will actually increase town revenues overall because of the discovery of some mining claims that had escaped taxation in the past.
Where you live determines how much, to whom you pay South Jordan's Glenmoor leads the way on tax load
PROPERTY TAXES LEVIED IN SALT LAKE COUNTY (on $80,000 home)
COUNTY: 1987 1988 CHANGE
Salt Lake countywide services $195 $194 - 1
SLCo unincorp. area services 101 101 0
SLCo Property tax admin. 26 27 1
Alta 124 112 -12
Bluffdale 56 53 - 3
Draper 63 63 0
Midvale 89 89 0
Murray 80 81 1
Riverton 66 67 1
Salt Lake City 210 210 0
Sandy 117 116 - 1
South Jordan 116 114 - 2
South Salt Lake 59 59 0
West Jordan 109 153 44
West Valley City 79 79 0
Granite 434 431 - 3
Jordan 436 436 0
Murray 385 386 1
Salt Lake City 385 388 3
Central Utah Water Conser. Dist. 19 19 0
Copperton Improvement Dist. 34 34 0
Emigration Improv. Dist. 30 28 - 2
Granger-Hunter Improv. Dist. 47 45 - 2
Kearns Improv. Dist. 43 43 0
Magna Water Co. 92 94 2
S.L. City Metro. Water Dist. 19 19 0
SLC Suburban Sanitary Dist.1 71 25 -46
SLC Suburban Sanitary Dist.2 55 54 - 1
SL Co. Water Conservancy Dist. 19 19 0
SL Co. Cottonwood Sanitary Dist. 39 39 0
SL Co. Sewerage Improv. Dist.1 94 85 - 9
Sandy Suburban Improv. Dist. 74 71 - 3
Taylorsville-Bennion Imp. Dist. 86 87 1
Murray 28 29 1
Salt Lake City 38 42 4
Salt Lake County 35 35 0
MOSQUITO ABATEMENT DISTRICTS:
Magna 5 4 - 1
Salt Lake City 2 2 0
South Salt Lake County 2 1 - 1
Alta Canyon Rec. Spec. Dist. 67 61 - 6
Glenmoor Spec. Service Dist. 83 81 - 2
SL Co Service Area 1 (Kearns) 67 67 0
SL Co Serv. Area 2 (Cttnwd. Hts.) 87 86 - 1
SL Co Serv. Area 3 (Snowbird) 79 81 2
Crecent Cemetery Maint. Dist. 4 4 0
South Jordan's Glenmoor leads the way on tax load
LOCAL TAX ON AN $80,000 HOME
COMMUNITY PROPERTY GAS PHONE ELECTRIC CABLETV TRASH TOTAL
Glenmoor $1,011 $33 $9 $32 $4 48 1,137
Sandy 943 33 9 32 11 54 1,082
South Jordan 930 33 9 32 4 48 1,056
Salt Lake City 903 33 9 32 4 48 1,029
Draper 879 33 9 32 0 48 1,001
West Jordan 1 885 33 9 32 0 40 1,000
Cottonwood 937 0 0 0 0 60 997
Kearns 937 0 0 0 0 60 997
Magna 925 0 0 0 0 60 985
West Valley City 851 33 9 32 5 49 979
Taylorsville 915 0 0 0 0 60 975
Union 887 0 0 0 0 60 947
Riverton 882 0 0 0 0 60 942
Copperton 848 0 0 0 0 60 908
Bluffdale 866 0 0 0 0 40 906
Midvale 821 16 5 16 0 46 904
Holladay 834 0 0 0 0 60 894
Olympus Cove 834 0 0 0 0 60 894
Herriman 813 0 0 0 0 60 873
Alta 831 0 0 0 0 0 831
(Tax District 40D)
South Salt Lake 767 5 2 5 2 0 781
(14) Murray 739 5 5 0 5 0 754
Information on average annual utility payments provided by utility companies: Natural gas, $542; telephone, $151.56; electricity, $531.51; cable television, $180.
1Proposed West Jordan utility franchise tax.