After four years of holding the line, the Salt Lake County Commission may be on the verge of raising property taxes.
Commissioners scrambled Thursday to buy space in both Salt Lake newspapers advertising the fact they may raise taxes by 9.47 percent in the countywide funds and 14.35 percent in the funds that pay for police and fire protection in the unincorporated areas.Commissioners, in the middle of their yearly budget sessions, still have two weeks to change their minds. The public will have a chance to persuade them at a hearing Dec. 7.
County officials had yet to calculate what the potential increase would mean for the average county resident, but estimates range up to about $40 per year per household. The county needs to raise about $6 million in its countywide funds and $2 million in its fund for police, fire and other municipal services.
Several factors are blamed for the proposed increase, including a $1.3 million payment the county must make on bonds to build a new jail, the need for better firefighting equipment, repairs to county-owned facilities and rising insurance costs.
But a tax increase is far from certain, and, if it comes, it may be far less than the amount posted in the newspaper ads. In fact, only one commissioner, Mike Stewart, says he thinks an increase is unavoidable. Ironically, the other two, Bart Barker and Tom Shimizu, ousted by voters earlier this month and leaving office in January, both have said they would rather find ways to avoid tax hikes.
A tax hike would not take effect until June, when newly elected Commissioners Randy Horiuchi and Jim Bradley will be in office and will set the final rates for 1991. They may decide to find ways to save money before then to lessen the burden on county residents. If commissioners increase taxes, county residents wouldn't feel the bite until next November, when property taxes are due.
"I don't think we're through yet," Shimizu said. "We're still trying to get to the point where we won't have a tax increase."
Barker said the payment on the jail bonds is the only thing he would feel comfortable raising taxes for. That's because voters approved those bonds in 1989 with the understanding that taxes would go up. Commissioners could have raised taxes last year for the bonds, but chose not to.
"My intent will still be to find a way not to have a tax increase," Barker said, noting that the only alternative is to cut budgets. "That will require a reduction in services."
Stewart said he believes an increase is imminent because of "a lot of little accumulative things."
The newspaper ads, which notify the public of a hearing on Dec. 7, had to run in Friday's editions in order to satisfy the one-week notice requirement of state law.
A public hearing on Salt Lake County's 1991 budget will be held Friday, Dec. 7, at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission Chambers, 2001 S. State. By then, commissiioners will have made a tentative decision on whether to raise property taxes.