The great irony of politics is that municipal elections have the greatest immediate impact on voters and yet tend to attract far fewer of them that do national elections. The current one, which has been underway in Utah in early voting for two weeks now and will end on Election Day this Tuesday, is no exception.
In addition to several races for mayor and city council positions, voters are being asked to decide whether to agree to bond issues and tax levies that would impact their pocketbooks. The Deseret News has a long tradition of not endorsing candidates for political office. However, we also traditionally have offered opinions on ballot measures. Two of these this year have caught our attention.
Jordan School District Bond: Voters in this district are being asked to approve a $495 million general obligation bond to pay for a long list of improvements. These include the construction of eight new elementary schools, two middle schoolsand one high school, in addition to some delayed maintenance projects at several existing schools.
If approved, the full amount of the bond would add an estimated $120 per year to tax bills for every $100,000 at which a home is valued, or about $300 or more for the average homeowner. Businesses would be hit even harder, at an average of about $550 more per year.
The Jordan District was put into a difficult position a few years ago when residents in its eastern end were allowed to break off and form the Canyons District. This left the remaining Jordan District with a much smaller tax base and a large burden of school-aged children in an area that attracts young families with affordable single-family homes. Overcrowding is a real issue in many parts of the district.
Unfortunately, however, this bond proposal overreaches and would place too large a burden on taxpayers. It is large enough to pose an economic development problem, as well. Businesses and developers would naturally react by choosing to locate outside the district, which would only exacerbate the need for a larger tax base to fund future education needs.
Many of the items on the district’s remodeling and renovation list represent deferred maintenance projects that ought to have been left off this bond proposal. We would prefer to see a bond for new construction only, which would have made the bond roughly half as large as the one voters now will consider. Jordan’s needs require a funding increase, but they also require some innovative thinking and a demonstration of austerity. More efforts should be made, for instance, to reduce the costs per square foot of new construction.
At a time when the economy remains on shaky ground, asking homeowners for another $300 a year is simply too much. We recommend voting no.
Orem’s CARE tax: The acronym stands for Cultural, Arts and Recreation Enrichment. Under state law, communities are allowed to levy a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to fund government-owned recreation and arts programs or to help with the ongoing budgets of nonprofit organizations that provide the same.
In this case, voters approved the small tax hike in the 2005 election and have been paying it since April of 2006. The money raised has helped support a variety of programs for children and teenagers and has helped support the SCERA and the Hale Center Theater.
As this measure would merely renew a tax already in place, and as the levy is a minor one that provides a considerable community benefit, we recommend voting yes.