PRICE — After hearing from residents reeling from sticker shock over two potential tax hikes — including one of more than 700 percent — Carbon County officials are pumping the brakes on the proposed increases.
County commissioners say they won't support the proposed tax increases as-is, and Commissioner Jae Potter is calling for an outside audit to check county officials' math before proceeding.
"I can't support the tax increase as it was proposed through our clerk's office until I'm sure that the numbers I'm looking at are correct," Potter said Wednesday. "I think we need to do a full external audit so we know exactly where those monies are."
Potter also says he'll first look for cuts in services to avoid any hikes.
"Before we talk about taxes being increased, we also need to look at the changes, the services … how our departments are run, the number of people we have and make any needed adjustments or (cuts) before we really talk about (tax hikes)," Potter said.
County Commissioner Jake Mellor also said in a post on Facebook that he's opposed "to any type of increase at this time."
Dozens of Carbon County residents attended a public hearing Tuesday night to protest the two proposed tax increases.
"I've lived here all my life and I've never seen tax hikes like this in all my life in this area," resident Gene Vae told commissioners.
Carbonville resident Rebecca Gray said she lives on a fixed income and already knows "I'm not going to be able to pay the increased taxes."
"Something has to be done," she told commissioners. "I don't know what it's going to be, but you need to get together and figure it out."
One of the proposals seeks a 707 percent increase to the county's municipal services levy, which would generate more than $2.1 million in revenue from county residents living outside incorporated cities.
The hike would increase taxes on a $154,000 residence from about $24 to nearly $198, according to the tax notice issued by the county.
The other would be a $400,000, 45 percent increase to the county's assessing and collecting levy, revenue that is used to assess and collect taxes for all taxing entities in Carbon County.
That increase would be assessed against every property in the county and bring in revenue from $800,000 to $1.2 million. On a $138,000 residence, the increase would be about $18.50 a year, raising the tax from about $41 to $60, according to the county.
During an Oct. 18 presentation to commissioners, Carbon County Clerk Auditor Seth Ovesonit said it costs the county $1.2 million to assess and collect taxes in the county, but in the past the county has only collected about $800,000 through the levy and used mineral royalty money to subsidize the fund and keep the taxes low.
Oveson said mineral royalty money has also been used to supplement the county's municipal service fund, which currently only collects about $300,000 in property taxes.
"The war on coal I really believe hurt us over the past eight years," Potter said, noting that in 2008, the county was collecting about $12 million a year in mineral royalties but now is only collecting about $2.5 million annually.
Oveson said in last month's presentation that the 707 percent increase to the municipal service tax would bring in what is needed to maintain the county's current level of service in unincorporated areas.
While Oveson acknowledged that a 707 percent, $2.1 million increase sounds large, he also said the increase would bring the county closer in line to what other municipalities are paying in municipal services. He said it would be slightly more costly than Price, but still lower than Helper, Wellington and East Carbon.7 comments on this story
Potter, who wants an outside audit to double-check Oveson's numbers, said even then he'd still look for other ways to streamline the county's budget before voting for a tax increase.
"As far as I'm concerned as one commissioner, this tax increase is not going to take place until the work is done," Potter said. "This community needs to grow but we need to do it in a very wise and healthy manner."
Another public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16 at the Carbon County Administration Building, 751 E. 100 North, Price.
Contributing: Sam Penrod