Gasoline prices are up. Food prices are up. Now, 85 local government entities in Utah are proposing to hike property taxes, too.
The cities, counties, water districts, school districts, fire districts and even cemetery districts say they need the extra cash to keep up with rising fuel costs, growth and higher costs for basic services and not for big, new projects.
Some proposed increases are huge. The biggest is a 293 percent hike for Clarkston, Cache County. It would cost an extra $465 a year on a $250,000 home there, if approved. (Town leaders did not return numerous phone calls seeking reasons for that increase.)
Some proposed hikes are tiny. For example, Payson is proposing a 0.2 percent hike that would cost just 27 cents a year on a $250,000 home.
News of the hikes come in big, required-by-law newspaper ads and notices mailed to homeowners this month showing the assessed value of their property. (The notices and ads also include the time and place of hearings about those proposed hikes.) A list of all proposed hikes is also on deseretnews.com (click on graphic "Truth in taxation, 2008").
Utah's "Truth in Taxation" laws require public hearings and newspaper ads any time local governments propose to raise overall property tax revenues (not rates) beyond what they collected the previous year (not counting money coming from new growth).
The State Tax Commission compiled a list of 85 governments going through that Truth in Taxation process for hikes this year, all of which will be holding hearings during the next month or so as they decide whether to impose the proposed increases.
The biggest increases reported, besides Clarkston, include: Saratoga Springs, a 199 percent hike that would cost $225 on a $250,000 house; Kane County, a 60 percent hike costing $209; American Fork, a 56 percent hike costing $160 was proposed initially but has been reduced; and Washington Terrace, a 37 percent increase costing $133.
Saratoga Springs City Manager Ken Leetham said about its increase, "We've been a city for about 10 years, and we've never raised taxes ... This is mostly to catch up." The city has increased in size from just a few hundred residents initially to about 15,500 now.
He said, "In addition to costs going up for fuel and expanding services, we really need to make that tax adjustment" for not raising taxes for so many years.
Kane County Commissioner Duke Cox said the increase there will help hire an additional employee each for the sheriff and county attorney, and some extra planning and zoning employees he said are needed to keep up with quick growth in that county.
"Fuel costs are definitely a concern for all our budgets," he said. "All of our employees have to travel quite a ways" in that rural area.
In American Fork, city leaders initially told the State Tax Commission they were proposing a hike that would cost $160 on a $250,000 home. But city spokeswoman Linda P. Walton said that has been decreased to an increase that would cost about $63 instead, a 22 percent increase, and its Truth in Taxation hearing will address that amount.
"It includes several new construction projects, some increased programs and keeping important programs funded," she said.
Some of the biggest tax increases for some homeowners will come from governments that previously did not charge property tax but are proposing to do so this year. That includes a municipal fund for unincorporated areas of Iron County, with a proposed hike of $254 on a $250,000 home, and the Neola Water District, with a hike of $248 on such a home.
To avoid "double taxation" in Iron County where residents living in cities or towns are paying for citylike services delivered by the county in unincorporated areas the county commission voted to create a "municipal services" tax for unincorporated areas.
"It is a question of leveling the (property tax) playing field," said county assessor Dennis Ayers. "I have some employees here who live in the (unincorporated) county and they are not happy about it. But they understand that this has to be done" or the county, like other urbanized counties before Iron County, could be liable in court for the disparity in taxation.
"I'm expecting a lot of angry phone calls" from county residents when they get their property tax notices, he said.
Sometimes several small increases by governments in the same area can add up to big bottom-line increases for homeowners. For example, several local governments that serve Salt Lake City residents are proposing tax hikes.
Salt Lake City government itself is proposing an increase of $16 on a $250,000 home. The Salt Lake City School District is also proposing a hike of about $20. Salt Lake County (which includes the city) is proposing a $2.48 increase. And the Metropolitan Water District in Salt Lake City is proposing a $3.16 increase.
In total, that is about a $42 increase overall on a $250,000 home there.
Also worth noting are some of the other larger increases proposed among some of more populous areas along the Wasatch Front.
For example, West Valley the state's second largest city is proposing an 11 percent hike that would cost an extra $46 on a $250,000 home. City officials have said it would go toward new fire equipment, police training and two new park employees.
West Jordan is proposing a 31 percent increase that would cost $77 on a $250,000 home. The city has said it is needed to fund road repairs, fuel cost increases and to maintain city services.
Riverton is proposing a 204 percent increase costing $64 on a $250,000 home. City officials say that is needed to fill gaps in city revenue caused by evaporating new construction. Last year, it had about 1,000 residential building permits. This year, it expects only 100 which will hurt its revenue stream.Mayor Bill Applegarth trimmed about $700,000 from Riverton's 2007-08 budget and laid off five city employees, including its public works director. But he has said the city still needs $1 million more in revenue, so the tax increase was proposed.