Wharton: Where do Salt Lake County taxes go?
Our 2012 property tax notice from Salt Lake County came in the mail a few weeks ago. Like many folks, our annual assessment is paid for by a mortgage company so, other than perhaps glancing at whether taxes have gone up or down, I don't often pay much attention to it.
This year was different. I decided to take a closer look and even got online to examine how some of my taxes are spent. After all, no one really much likes to pay taxes, and I'm no exception. That said, they are a necessary component of society. We can all quibble, though, about the programs we might not like.
So what do I get for my property taxes?
Nearly half of my property taxes go to the Granite School District. Since I don't have kids in school anymore, and none of my grandkids live in this area, I guess it would be easy to selfishly gripe about paying for something I no longer use.
Of course, that would ignore the fact that I was educated in the Granite School District years ago, and I'm sure there were folks with no kids who helped finance my schooling. My own four children went through school in Salt Lake City. Back 15 or 20 years ago, I looked at the taxes I was paying into the school fund and figured I was getting a bargain, especially when compared to tuition at a private or Catholic school.
So I guess I can't complain there.
The next biggest part of my tax bill, just more than $500 to be exact, goes to Salt Lake County, with a smaller chunk being siphoned to Taylorsville City, where I live.
It seems like we spend quite a bit on water as well. Special assessments go to the Jordan Valley Water Conservation District, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District and the Taylorsville Bennion Improvement District. I guess that since water is pretty much essential to life, we shouldn't complain.
Other smaller fees go to the Salt Lake County Library System, which I should use more but don't, and the South Salt Lake Mosquito Abatement District. No complaints there. I hate getting bitten by mosquitoes.
Walking through the Salt Lake County budget, I am actually amazed at the breadth and scope of the services I receive for my $500 in taxes. Though I am sure Taylorsville provides some of these services, the list is long and detailed.
County taxpayers pay for such basic services as police and fire protection, garbage collection, the operation of the landfill, street lighting, the jail, justice courts, elections, some road maintenance and the health department.
Human services can be complex. Many years ago, my late wife and I took in foster teens. I was amazed at services the county offered to these often troubled youths. They included mental-health help, special education programs, medical health, a small stipend for foster families to defray costs and regular visits from social workers.
The county provides help for youth, those with behavior problems, adults with mental health issues, aid to the homeless, substance abuse efforts and a number of special programs for seniors.
Then there are services that add to our quality of life and help our economy. These include fine arts, parks, golf courses, open space preservation, recreation centers, help to Hogle Zoo and Tracy Aviary, the Salt Palace, South Towne Expo Center, tourism promotion, the children's museum and planetarium to name just a few.
I am sure anti-tax folks can and do look at all the services the county provides that they don't use on a regular basis and gripe about paying for them. In my case, for example, I seldom step foot in a library, but my grandkids do, and I sure don't resent spending money to operate them.
All things considered, my property taxes might seem hard to pay each year when they come due, but duplicating the services provided would be far more costly and probably not as efficient. No one likes paying taxes, and everyone can probably find waste if they look close enough, but overall I'd say what I pay to Salt Lake County for what I get is a bargain.