Salt Lake County commissioners have pledged not to raise county property taxes this year. Instead, they'll ask voters to do it.
Tax rates for 1989 won't be set until June, but commissioners have approved a resolution saying they'll voluntarily freeze county property tax rates for one year.However, what the resolution doesn't say is that the commission plans to call a bond election - maybe as early as May - and ask voters to approve a tax hike to pay for a new minimum security jail.
The county's tax-freeze pledge is nothing new, and commissioners' plans for a bond election don't contradict the promise - although at first glance they may seem to.
After successfully battling the tax limitation initiatives last year, commissioners said during December sessions to finalize the 1988 budget that no county tax hikes should be necessary over the next five years, except in emergencies or unless approved by voters.
And while commissioners have repeated the voluntary tax-freeze pledge twice recently - during a press conference after Gov. Norm Bangerter's proposed tax-freeze legislation failed, and in the commission's resolution - they're already planning to ask the public for a voter-approved tax hike to deal with a jail overcrowding emergency.
With their tax-freeze pledge, commissioners show the distinction between a tax increase ordered by elected officials and one approved by voters. The pledge says, "We commissioners won't vote to raise your taxes." The calling of a bond election says, "We commissioners want you to vote to raise your own taxes."
And as commissioners point out, a public vote on proposed tax increases is exactly what was sought by the framers of last year's defeated tax limitation initiatives.
The jail overcrowding problem is real - a jail with a capacity of 550 inmates has been holding 650 on almost a daily basis - and the county is taking a risk by allowing voters to approve or reject the funding of a new facility.
But to back up their tax-freeze pledge, the commission has also vowed to abide by the results of the bond election. Commissioners say they won't build the jail unless voters approve the bond issue.
Because final construction cost estimates won't be ready for a few more weeks, no one can be certain now just how much the taxes of individual property owners would have to go up to pay for the jail, estimated to cost at least $9 million.
And no one can be sure when the bond election will be called. Commissioners would like to have the vote in late May, so the county can take advantage of this year's construction season.
But it's possible that zoning and conditional use approvals from South Salt Lake, site of the proposed jail, may not come in time for a spring election. That probably would push the vote back to November because commissioners are reluctant to hold an election during the summer months when many voters are vacationing.