OGDEN Weber and Davis county commissions have decided to wrestle until Jan. 31 with how to deal with the projected loss of $3.8 million in sales tax revenues to the Utah Transit Authority for transit services in the two counties.
UTA has an anticipated deficit because the two counties have yet to pass an 0.05 percent sales tax increase to compensate for revenue lost from a reduction in the sales tax on food. All the other counties with which UTA is involved have approved a sales tax change effective Jan. 1.
The first full-scale meeting on the issue with UTA and the Davis/Weber commissions was held Tuesday afternoon for two hours in the Weber Commission Chambers.
The $3.8 million represents about 27 percent of UTA's total revenue from the two counties and could, if not at least partially funded, equal the largest-ever cutbacks in UTA history.
The difficulty is what cuts to make, or how to come up with the money. Many residents, especially in Davis County, feel recent property tax increases have already hit them hard.
"It couldn't be worse," Davis Commissioner Louenda H. Downs said of the timing of the UTA shortfall.
Fellow Commissioner Alan Hansen agreed. "The public perception is this is another tax increase."
But UTA doesn't see it that way.
"In our view, this is not an increase," said UTA's general manager, John Inglish. He reasons that if county residents receive a $52-a-year average savings with the absence of sales tax on food next year, and UTA seeks only to get $7 a year back, that's a a net tax decrease of $45 for residents.
"We're trying to protect taxpayer dollars," said Jan M. Zogmaister, Weber County commissioner. "We want to have (public) transit remain healthy and strong ... We only want to tax the people as needed."
Commissioners want UTA to provide them with a breakdown on ridership and continue to study the issue. They seem to favor a combination of cutbacks and fare increases over any sort of tax increase.
Inglish said he will cut services and/or raise fares, if that's what the commissions end up wanting.
"This is a critical time, with FrontRunner (commuter rail) coming," Zogmaister said. "We're not through meeting."
UTA officials said that each county gets what it pays for and so cutbacks or fare increases would be needed in the two counties if nothing changes by early next year.
If the option is for a transit rider fare increase only to satisfy the $3.8 million deficit, a $4 increase on top of the existing fare of $1.60 would be needed, UTA officials said.
With no fare increase and just service cutbacks, examples of what might be cut include:
• Saturday FrontRunner service could be eliminated, as well as weekend evening runs after 7 p.m.
• Express bus service (routes 472/473), with about 57 one-way trips between Salt Lake and Ogden each day, could be eliminated.
• All other local bus service in the two counties could be reduced by 5 percent. That, for example, would cut out four or more trips a day off route 470, which makes about 86 trips each weekday between Salt Lake and Ogden.
• Another $300,000 in paratransit cuts could also be required.
County commissioners are not happy about the delay in hearing about this issue.
UTA knew about the coming shortfall from the two counties last February, but county commissioners weren't informed of it until September. Both sides spoke of working toward better communication in the future.One other downside to the $3.8 million revenue loss is its possible detriment to UTA's bonding ability. A worse bond rate could mean fewer future UTA projects and more expensive ones.
What could change
Davis and Weber counties currently face cuts of at least $800,000 in transit service next year. But the two counties could have to swallow as much as $3.8 million in cuts if they fail to pass a tax increase before the third quarter of this fiscal year to compensate for a reduction in the sales tax on food. Potential cuts could include:
$2 million. Reduced commuter rail service eliminating Saturday service and also on weekdays after 7 p.m.
$1.5 million. Fewer express bus and local routes.
$300,000. Cutbacks to paratransit service.Source: UTA