Reports that some Salt Lake County employees plan to vote for three tax-limitation initiatives has prompted the county's budget director to conduct seminars to educate employees on exactly what the initiatives are.
But Nelson G. Williams, an admitted opponent of the initiatives, isn't lobbying county employees to vote against the three questions, which will appear on the November ballot."What I'm saying is there are always two sides to every issue, and before anyone votes they should make sure they really know whether they want to vote for or against the initiatives," Williams said.
In the past few weeks Williams has conducted half a dozen information sessions in various county departments to educate employees on the initiatives, which if approved would roll back state taxes to their 1986 levels and provide tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools.
But the major impact to the county budget would come from an initiative that would cap property tax rates at 1 percent of fair-market value for commercial and other property and at 0.75 percent for residential property.
The Utah Tax Commission estimates voter approval of that initiative would cut $39 million, or 40 percent, from the county's $99 million in property tax collections. And Williams wants county employees to clearly understand that before they decide how to vote.
Williams, county commissioners and department heads are still calculating the projected impact such a cut would have on each county program and service. County officials have refused to guess how deep the potential budget cuts would go and say they won't comment until projections are final.
Officials want solid figures to back them up before they make public comments on the budget projections - an effort to avoid the accusations of "scare tactics" that tax limitations proponents have hurled at other government entities.
But what's already clear is the cuts would be much greater than the 6 percent figure tax-limitation proponents are using, and programs and services funded by property tax revenues would be hit hardest.
A 6 percent cut to the county's $270 million budget would be about $16 million.
The effect of the tax cap would cut annual property taxes on a $100,000 home by more than 50 percent - from $1,250 to about $600 - because state law already exempts the first 20 percent of a home's value from any property tax, Williams said.
"Everyone wants lower taxes, including me," he said. "But the other side of the issue is do people want lower taxes if it means government service levels must be cut back."
Williams feels it's inappropriate for governments to campaign against the initiatives. But he feels educating county employees - and encouraging them to educate relatives, friends and neighbors - is part of his job.
"Education is the best tool there is," he said. "If the initiatives pass, government will have to live with them and do the best it can. But it would be horrible for them to pass if voters believe the result will be only a 4 percent or 6 percent budget cut."
But Williams has cautioned county employees who have approached him asking what they can do to educate others to be very careful when explaining the initiatives.
"We have to be careful to avoid hyperbole and exaggeration," Williams said. "We have a responsibility to be accurate as we can. If we're not, we won't have any credibility."