Tuesday Salt Lake County residents passed Proposal 1, a one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase to fund the arts and recreation, but some residents doubt whether their money will benefit more than the high society arts.
The tax, which earned 58 percent of the vote, will be applied to all purchases made within Salt Lake County that are subject to sales tax. It will cost most families between $11 and $26 per year.
The proposal states that 52.5 percent of the revenue will go to “botanical and cultural organizations with average annual operating expenses of more than $250,000.” About 200 organizations will qualify to receive this money, a dozen of which are eligible for more than half of the total funds. Some of the 12 eligible organizations include the Utah Symphony, Ballet West, the Utah Opera Company and Red Butte Gardens.
Opponents to the tax worry it is merely a way to give more money to Salt Lake City’s prominent arts, pointing fingers at the Utah Symphony, which stands to be one of the main beneficiaries of the tax.
“It takes $200 million from taxpayers in Salt Lake County and gives most of the money to high society arts groups,” said Robert Breeze, a criminal defense lawyer who heads the opposition to Proposition 1.
The Utah Symphony argues the money is needed to expand community outreach and educational programs. “Presently, we are always looking for concerts that generate revenue to fund our operation,” said Donald Andrews, president and CEO of the Utah Symphony. “Whereas with added funding we would be able to take the risk of offering more concerts that are free or have a low admission charge.”
The Utah Symphony hopes to increase the number of school concerts from 55 to 75, and to add 10 to 12 public performances to its regular season.
“This is about taking the elitism out of the arts,” said Caroline Roemer, spokeswoman for People for a Nicer Community. The tax will give more people the opportunity to experience what these groups offer, she said.
The Utah Symphony currently has about a 350,000 yearly audience, but with funding from the tax, audience numbers could increase to about half a million, Andrews said.
The tax will be based on needs and priorities, Roemer said. There will be two individual advisory boards assigned to decide the needs of the county, which will function as a safety net to assure that all people will benefit from the tax.
“Whether the arts council in Riverton lacks costumes or a baseball field in Murray needs grooming, the needs will be met,” she said.
Although the majority of the funds will go to the dozen companies, for many, the most visible benefits will be in recreation, said Michael Christensen, executive director of the Utah Foundation. It is projected that 30 percent of the funds will go to recreational facilities and programs.
“Recreationists from baseball, softball, soccer and football to users of the public swimming pools, parks and recreation centers will see improvements to their facilities,” Christensen said.
Uintah County passed a similar tax increase by 53.1 percent in their June 28 primary elections. The countywide tax increase, also used to fund arts and recreation, has yet to be contested, said Glan McKee, Uintah county commissioner.