Utah County residents heated about proposed property tax increase

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Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee addresses residents’ concerns regarding county budget and tax increases for 2020 at a town hall meeting on Nov. 6. (Anna Morgan)

Utah County residents met with three county commissioners to discuss 2020 tax increases and budget proposals on Wednesday, Nov. 6, at the County Health and Justice Building.

The meeting was held in response to a notice that Utah County mailed out informing residents of a proposed 100% increase in the county portion of property taxes for 2020.

According to comments in the meeting, this notice caught residents off guard. Utah County resident Michelle Stalling was in attendance at the meeting and said she was shocked when she received the notice.

“If you want support for this, you need to justify what you’re doing and explain what’s happening before you announce you’re increasing taxes,” Stalling said. 

Residents attending the meeting expressed that county government officials had not been transparent in the way they budget money and spend taxpayer dollars.

Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie said he believes the public’s main concerns are about not knowing where the money is going and over a lack of transparency in government. Ivie said the best way to become more transparent as a government is to hold meetings and share information on social media about what the government is working on. 

Last year Utah County proposed to increase property taxes by 27%, however, the proposal was ultimately voted against by residents.

Amelia Powers Gardner, Utah County clerk and auditor, understands that people need to know where their tax money is going, but, she said, there’s also another side to the story.

“A lot of people are under the impression that when their property value goes up, we get more money. In reality, what we collect stays the same,” Gardner said. 

Gardner said the tax increase is high to make up for a deficit the government has been running as it tries to compensate for the burden increased growth has placed on government entities. The tax increase will not go towards adding new programs but towards funding existing ones.

In order to lessen tax increases as much as possible and manage the budget in a responsible way, Utah County Commission Chairman Bill Lee presented a number of budget cuts and revenue-generating solutions, including discontinuing capital punishment cases and having the Utah County Sheriff’s office reenter a previously terminated contract in 2016 with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The discontinuation of capital punishment cases would save the county $1 million annually. As an alternative, the county would seek out other sentences, such as life without parole, rather than pushing for death sentences.

Reenacting the contract between Utah County and ICE, which allowed for immigration detainees to be held in the county jail, would bring in a total revenue of about $4.5 million annually.

The combination of Lee’s proposed budget solutions totaled more than $34 million.

The final budget draft will be proposed and voted on Dec. 11. As commissioners answered questions from the audience regarding budget cut proposals, tax increases and responsible government funding, they heard from the perspectives of business owners, government employees and residents within Utah County.

“The most important thing is to express gratitude to the citizens who came tonight. Thank you for being involved in this process,” Ivie said.

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