OGDEN — If county commissioners in Weber and Davis counties don't pass a 0.05 percent sales tax increase, then the Utah Transit Authority will cut some services, although the cuts won't be as drastic as first stated.

The transit authority, which runs buses and light rail and is set to open a commuter rail line from Ogden to Salt Lake City this spring, is asking the two counties for the tax increase to offset the removal of sales tax from non-prepared food items.

The Legislature's vote to eliminate part of the sales tax on food in 2007 meant that UTA would lose 10 percent of its general-fund revenue, but UTA was allowed to ask the counties it serves to make up for the lost revenue.

Salt Lake, Utah, Tooele and Box Elder counties have passed the 0.05 percent tax increase, but Weber and Davis officials balked at the idea of making residents cough up $7 per person when 2007 was already a bad year for taxes in the two counties.

Davis and Weber county officials heard an earful from residents whose property taxes shot through the roof and are not anxious to impose another tax.

They disagree with UTA general manager John Inglish's idea that imposing a 0.05 percent sales tax for UTA wouldn't be a tax increase.

"It's still a tax reduction," he said, adding that the reduction per person would be $45 instead of $52.

Commissioners from Weber and Davis counties agreed to mull things over after a three-hour meeting in Ogden Thursday.

UTA had given the two counties a Jan. 31 deadline to make a decision before it would begin cutting FrontRunner runs on Saturday and weekend runs after 7 p.m., express bus routes and some paratransit routes.

The deadline still stands, but the transit authority will continue all service through the first quarter 2008.

Bruce Jones, UTA general counsel, said UTA didn't intend to cause a public furor by listing those services as possible cuts.

Inglish said he's willing to work with commissioners and hold public hearings, as well as investigating what would be the most efficacious cuts to make.

Jones said UTA also plans to communicate better with commissioners by meeting before and after the legislative session.

Despite learning of the cuts to the agency's revenue in February, UTA didn't approach Davis commissioners until September.

For county commissioners in Weber County, it's hard to see why UTA needs a special increase in the sales tax rate.

During 2007, it seemed that Weber County's RAMP tax (for recreation, arts, museums and parks) would have a shortfall, but a growing economy eventually brought in more tax revenue than expected for RAMP programs in Weber County, said Weber Commissioner Jan Zogmaister.

She said it's difficult to see why UTA couldn't count on the same growth in sales-tax revenue.

But Inglish said sales-tax growth isn't guaranteed because sales-tax revenue is volatile. UTA needs to guarantee its funding 30 years out to show it has stable revenue in the event the agency wants to bond for projects.

E-mail: [email protected]