Mayor Ken Miller says a clerical error is to blame for the city's violation of Utah's truth-in-taxation law - an error that led West Jordan to understate its property tax increase.
"This sounds like a cop-out, but we depend on staff to provide us with the correct information," Miller said. "We assume that what they give us is generally correct unless we know it's not. And during the midst of all these budget hearings, these discussions took a lot of time. Somebody copied the legislation out of the old book."Over the opposition of Miller and Councilwoman Kathy Hilton, the city has decided to hold another hearing on Oct. 9. The mayor contends the state's truth-in-taxation law is convoluted and needs to be changed.
The controversy over the legality of the city's Aug. 9 hearing began when David E. Vanier, assistant director of the Property Tax Division, argued that West Jordan incorrectly advertised its property tax revenue increase, listing it 2.4 percent lower than it should have been. In addition, Vanier said the city failed to disclose increases in revenue resulting from new construction.
The rate increase, if it had been calculated according to State Tax Commission guidelines, should have been 6.9 percent, not 4.5 percent, Vanier said.
Miller, however, said he doesn't think the Tax Commission believes the city made the miscalculation intentionally.
Miller and Councilwoman Kathy Hilton voted against holding another hearing because they believe the law is too difficult to understand and probably unconstitutional.
The certified tax rate is set according to the tax levied by the government in the previous year. According to Dave Spatafore, a lobbyist at the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the mayors around the state believe that the formula is convoluted and that it doesn't allow enough room for revenue growth before a city is required to hold a truth-in-taxation hearing saying that taxes are up. The league would rather have taxes levied based on the tax rate, which stays constant, rather than on revenues, which can fluctuate from year to year based on collection rates and new growth.
Miller said he personally was willing for the city to be sued over the issue. "I'm firmly in favor of the spirit of the truth-in-taxation legislation, (but) the problem with this law is that it goes beyond simply informing people. It goes to the point of having the state set our tax rate, which is unconstitutional.
But Vanier said a city's certified tax rate is based on the government's own tax levy set in the previous year.
"If you have this many city officials getting confused over this situation, how can this possibly promote understanding on the part of the resident?" the mayor asked. "We gave them more information than the law would allow us to give them."