Sevier County commissioners have succeeded in more than doubling county residents' taxes in just two years, despite an angry outcry from county residents.
Commissioners recently approved a $4.4 million budget with an attached 49 percent county tax increase. That's on top of a 59 percent tax hike approved last year. That's a 108 percent increase over two years.Commissioners proposed doubling county taxes last year, but partly backed away from their intentions after many angry taxpayers voiced strong objection at a budget hearing. They opted for the 59 percent increase instead.
When taxpayers learned of the commission's proposal for a 49 percent increase this year, they again appeared in large numbers at the Dec. 6 hearing.
A homeowner in Sevier County with a house valued at about $60,000 will pay county taxes in excess of $100 to cover the new budget, an increase of about $35. Before the past two years, that same homeowner was paying less than $50 in county taxes. The total tax bill for a $60,000 home this year, which funds the school district (which gets the bulk of property tax revenues) and the communities, was about $475.
Gene Mendenhall, who will replace Jay Gardner on the commission in January, says he hopes he won't become involved in the tax hassles that have faced the commission during the past two years, pledging he will do everything possible to hold the line on taxes. Commissioners in some neighboring counties didn't increase taxes in preparing their budgets this year, opting instead to cut spending and, in some cases, to cut the number of employees.
The second increase in Sevier County taxes came somewhat unexpectedly, particularly in the light of a statement made by Commission Chairman Merlin Ashman prior to the elections. In a pre-election story in the Deseret News he said he did not anticipate a tax increase "in the near future" and that the 59 percent increase approved last year could probably be rescinded " in two or three years."
Gardner claimed the increase was needed because commissioners continued services to county residents while faced with higher costs, depleting surplus funds that were needed to cover deficits through the 1980s. A suggestion by disgruntled taxpayers at this year's meetings to put the proposed increase before the people on a ballot was ignored by commissioners.
That probably wouldn't get approval anyway. Sevier County residents defeated a proposal for a school leeway tax twice this year, at the primary election when it was first proposed and at the general election when the Sevier Board of Education reintroduced it.
County property tax revenue is anticipated at nearly $1.5 million for 1991 with the increased tax. Other major sources of revenue and estimated amounts are intergovernmental, $1,297,000; charges for service, $339,000; fines and forfeitures, $330,500 and most other sources, $301,000.
County Clerk/Auditor Steve Wall notes that most of the increase is in the non-departmental account, which pays such expenditures as assessing and collecting taxes, interest on tax anticipation notes, insurance, aging and Senior Citizens. He said collecting taxes is the largest item and that it wasn't in the non-departmental account in previous years.
Non-departmental expenditures received the largest increase, budgeted at $569,350 as compared with $164,305 last year.
Departments will operate on these amounts under the new budget: commission, $65,802; clerk/auditor, $122,572; treasurer, $105,724; recorder, $114,510; surveyor, $1,500; assessor, $207,917; attorney, $169,491; public defender, $43,000; sheriff, $617,100.