A tax referendum issue that Sevier County officials declared in January to be a "dead issue" has found new life, this time through a lawsuit initiated by five county residents.
The suit asks that the County Commission's 1991 budget be placed on the ballot, claiming a previous refusal to do so is unconstitutional.County Clerk Steve Wall and the county were named defendants in the action that was filed in 6th District Court. Plaintiffs are Al Ricksecker, Monroe; Art J. Robinson, Salina; Newell Hales, Redmond; Gary A. Cowley, Venice; and Paul Turner, Richfield.
"We are seeking to get the court to declare the action of the county illegal," Ricksecker said. "If the court finds that the county acted legally, then we want the law to be declared unconstitutional."
In 1985 the Utah Legislature passed a bill making it illegal to initiate or change city or town budgets through referendums. In 1987 a Senate bill was approved extending the law to include counties. The suit asks the court to declare the Utah code concerning that law to be unconstitutional because "it violates the plaintiff's right under the Constitution to bring a referendum."
The Sevier County Commission hiked taxes to meet the 1991 county budget by 49.62 percent and by more than 50 percent the previous year after running into strong opposition by county residents in a proposal to double county taxes in 1990.
The five residents spearheaded a move that resulted in getting 1,116 signatures on a petition that asked that the tax increase related to this year's budget be placed on the ballot. But Wall, on the advice of County Attorney Don Brown, declared the "referendum petition is insufficient" and refused to put it on the ballot.
In a letter to David J. Crapo of Salt Lake City, attorney for the five people involved in the issue, Brown said, "It is the position of Sevier County that the petition does not comport with the statues inasmuch as the petition requests a special election as opposed to regular election." He added that an election would jeopardize expenditures of monies and receipts of funds, claiming the county would have had to cease operating until an election was held.
The suit claims that Utah law does not restrict the right to bring an ordinance that enacts a budget appropriation before the people in the form of a referendum. It also requests a judgment that Sevier County violated Utah law by refusing to place the referendum issue before the people and that the court order the county to place the referendum issue on the ballot.