SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court settled a dispute Wednesday between Draper City and residents of the Traverse Ridge Special Services District.
On the same day that oral arguments were presented, the high court ruled in favor of the residents, who have wanted to vote on a taxation issue for the district but were denied the opportunity by the city earlier this month.
Petitioners appealed to the Utah Supreme Court in a writ of extraordinary relief so that Wednesday's deadline for preparing ballots could be met. The ruling orders Draper City to put the matter on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
"At the end of the day, this, to me, is a bigger issue than just this particular budget," said referendum organizer Christine McClory. "This actually, to me, encompasses the constitutional right of voters in districts."
Established in 1999, the Traverse Ridge Special Services District straddles the border between Utah and Salt Lake counties within the city limits and now has more than 1,200 homes situated about 2,000 vertical feet above the rest of the city.
In addition to paying normal property taxes, property owners within the district pay a special service tax to the city to cover the incremental cost of snow removal at a higher elevation. The residents, however, claim the special service tax levied is more than the incremental cost of those services, and is double what Draper residents outside of the district pay, according to referendum organizer Lana Mawhinney.
"I am absolutely not receiving 200 percent of the services of the city," Mawhinney said. "We're not challenging the district services we receive. We're challenging the fact that they're charging us well above the cost of those services."
Residents began a petition in July to put the issue to vote on November's ballot. Because the matter was initially considered legislative, city officials helped facilitate the referendum.
Petitioners gathered 374 signatures, well over the number required for a place on the ballot, according to McClory.
But on Sept. 2, just minutes before the petition deadline, city officials killed the initiative after determining that because there was no proposed increase to the tax rate, levying the tax was an administrative function, not legislative, and thus not subject to referendum.
"We're staying with the same tax rate we've always had," Draper City spokesman Craig Smith said while presenting to the court Wednesday. "That's an administrative act. Only when you raise the tax, that's a legislative act."
City leaders also argued that the Utah Constitution is unclear on whether referendum power can be administered in a special service district. Residents of the district, however, felt they were not afforded the same constitutional right to vote as those outside of the district.
The court ruled that the matter was "legislative in nature and properly referable to the voters of the Traverse Ridge Special Service District."
"We respect the court's decision. This referendum will be placed on the ballot," said Draper spokeswoman Maridene Alexander. She added that city officials will be discussing the potential budgeting impacts the ruling will have.
McClory said she was grateful that the Utah Supreme Court ruled on the case with special expediency so that ballot deadlines could be met.
"We are confident this will be the beginning of a new and positive relationship with Draper City as we work to determine the proper budgeting methodology for the district," McClory said.
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