A proposal to alter the way the state's property taxes are calculated could lead to consideration during the 2008 Legislature of an amendment to the Utah Constitution. If lawmakers approved such an amendment, it would then require a statewide vote.
Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, plans to run a bill in 2008 that would change the way county assessors arrive at a property's market value, which now is based on sales data of comparable properties.
Stowell's legislation would base calculations on a five-year rolling average of property values, which would flatten out any potential spikes in value.
A sharp single year's increase in values would only cause a slight increase in the five-year average, said Utah County Assessor Kris Poulson.
But because the Utah Constitution states that properties are assessed in proportion to their fair-market value, Stowell's legislation, if passed, would require a change in that wording.
Two-thirds of legislators in the House of Representatives and Senate would have to approve the amendment and then submit it to a vote of Utah residents.
"I believe people are so upset over fluctuating values we could pass a constitutional amendment," Stowell said.
Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, recently got a draft bill passed out of the Legislature's Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee that would force taxing entities to raise taxes incrementally and more often instead of in large jumps. If a taxing jurisdiction wanted to raise taxes beyond the rate of inflation, it would require a vote of the people.
He praised Utah's current property tax system, which requires taxing entities to hold public hearings if they want to collect more property-tax revenue than the previous year, minus the revenue from any new properties.
"Most people are not hearing about (public hearings) or are not understanding what they are," Niederhauser said. "We need to have more people weighing in on tax increases."
A vote is one way to do that, he said.
Niederhauser may amend his bill or draft a new one to require that all truth-in-taxation hearings in one area be held in one location so that residents don't have multiple tax meetings. In Davis County, four taxing entities held truth-in-taxation hearings in August, two of which were held in Farmington on different nights. One hearing was in Kaysville and one was in Ogden.
Niederhauser said the issue boils down to the fact that people hate property taxes.
That sentiment was evident in Davis and Weber counties this year.
Spikes in property values in Bountiful and Ogden Valley led to greatly increased property tax bills and an outcry from area residents.
The brouhaha spurred Davis County officials to provide emergency funding for the Davis County Assessor's Office so a similar outcry doesn't happen in 2008.
Stowell's bill would have a friend in Utah County Commissioner Steve White.
White said he's "drawing a line in the sand" over property taxes after the number of tax-appeal hearings more than doubled in Utah County this year.
The Utah County commissioners recently resolved to ask legislators to enact a law that would implement a five-year rolling valuation and place a 5 percent maximum cap on tax increases for any year.
No legislation has yet been proposed that deals with a cap on tax increases.
"There's more work to be done," White said. "I'm not suggesting how they work it up, but we need to come up with something."
If such a bill is passed, White says he is not concerned about losing revenue with a property tax cap.
"We're going to do what we need to do here, and if that means that we're going to have to cut some non-essential services or non-statutory services, then that's what we'll do," White said.
White's frustration is that, even though the county tax rate dropped this year to adjust for rising home values, other taxing entities in the county, such as school districts, increased their tax rates by five or six times the county rate. Those increases have brought droves of complaining people to White's door.
"People say, 'Commissioners, why don't you do anything about this?"' White said. "But I can't break the law just because I disagree with it. We're going to propose changes. We're not going to sit in the back seat. We're not Davis County, where they raise taxes and then blame somebody else."
Two of Davis County's commissioners were elected in November and weren't part of the commission that raised the county's portion of property taxes in December.
Davis County Assessor James Ivie was also elected in November and said his department has been under-funded and under-staffed in past years. He says certain areas of the county weren't appraised for 10 years, and this year's re-appraisal led to the spikes in property values in Bountiful, North Salt Lake and Kaysville.Davis officials say they're working to make sure 2008 is a kinder year to Davis County property owners.