Want to confuse your city officials? Ask them how the Legislature has changed taxes this year.
The answers are liable to range from "I don't know" to "it depends."Then ask people in your county auditor's office. They are likely to give you the same answer and show you a desk littered with telephone messages from confused city officials.
"I, who probably know the system best, am still being very careful how I answer questions," said Mike Reed, Salt Lake County's tax division director.
The problem started when the Utah Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for properties assessed by the county to receive an automatic 20 percent discount on their values when figuring property taxes while large companies that are assessed by the state do not.
AMAX Magnesium Corp. is one of those large companies. It filed a claim that led to the Supreme Court ruling.
When it met earlier this year, the Legislature decided to solve the problem by setting the discount at 5 percent for county- and state-assessed properties.
They decided to tax homes used as primary residences on 66.74 percent of their value instead of 60 percent. That means homeowners' taxes automatically will rise if cities and counties keep the same tax rates they now have.
But state law might not let your city and county do that. A statute known as the Truth in Taxation law requires governments to receive no more money in taxes this year than they did the previous year. The Legislature's solution to the AMAX case automatically may generate more money for your local government. If so, your government either will have to advertise that it is raising taxes or lower its tax rate to compensate for the extra money.
Of course, if your city or county is one of the unlucky ones that receives less money because of the change, your tax rate could skyrocket without your local government having to notify anyone.
It all depends on how much property in your area is assessed by the state and how much is assessed by the county.
In Salt Lake and Davis counties, best estimates are that changes will be slight. But some cities may get more money while others get less. In any case, no one is likely to accept the extra money if it means telling the public that taxes are going up.
"We have a higher amount of locally assessed properties than the average," said Buzz Hunt, Salt Lake City treasurer. "That will probably force our tax rates down, but I don't think anyone has a tight handle on the numbers."
Some argue that small business will take the brunt of the change. But business officials contend that depends on whether they own a lot of real estate. In any event, the Legislature's solution was passed with full support of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
"We felt that had the Legislature done nothing, the cost to the state would have been a lot worse," said Lade Heaton, who runs a real estate company and was vice chairman of the chamber's small business subcommittee.
Another part of the AMAX solution sets a statewide fee of 1.7 percent on the value of cars, boats and recreational vehicles. The fee replaces what Utahns have been paying as property tax on vehicles.
That means Salt Lake County residents will pay slightly less for their vehicles, while Davis County residents will pay slightly more, according to estimates provided by the Legislature.