While Salt Lake County commissioners continued to struggle to avoid a tax increase Monday, the head of a watchdog group accused them of politicking and warned them to hold the line.

The county published newspaper ads last week saying it may raise property taxes by as much as 7.6 percent. The decision will be made by a commission controlled by Republican commissioners who were ousted by voters last month."If lame-duck Commissioners Bart Barker and Tom Shimizu present new Commissioners Jim Bradley and Randy Horiuchi with a budget containing a property tax increase, new commissioners will accept it, but Barker and Shimizu will get the blame," Howard Stephenson, head of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said in a statement released Monday. The association is a non-profit group comprising 3,000 business and professional people and others concerned about taxes.

Stephenson noted that county officials have said an increase this year will save taxpayers another hike until 1994, the next year voters will chose two of the three commissioners.

"It is no accident that the tax hikes are timed to skirt elections," Stephenson said. "I think commissioners will have a difficult time explaining to taxpayers why taxes are increasing when the county is holding fund balances of over $16 million."

Barker has claimed throughout the budget process that there is nothing political about his decisions. He is leaving the county after 10 years in office. Both Barker and Shimizu have said they will do all they can to keep from raising taxes.

However, Shimizu said Monday he supports a minor increase to make a payment on the county's bond to build a jail. The bond was supported by voters in 1989 after they were told it would lead to a tax increase.

The one commissioner who isn't losing his job, Republican Mike Stewart, has said he supports a general tax increase to pay for a variety of projects.

As for fund balances, County Auditor Craig Sorensen has advised the council to keep them high in order to absorb higher costs projected for the future.

Stephenson also criticized the newspaper ads the county purchased, saying they appeared in the classified section of one newspaper in violation of state law. He urged taxpayers to attend the hearing on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Salt Lake County Government Center, 2001 S. State.