Tooele • For the first time in 27 years, Tooele County commissioners approved a property tax increase, seemingly the only option left to prevent a slide toward bankruptcy.
More than 150 residents filled the Convention Center at the county's Deseret Peak Complex, speaking both for and against the 66 percent bump that boosts property tax on a $150,000 home by about $73 per year and $133 on a $150,000 business.
For homeowners, it means a 5 percent to 7 percent increase on their overall tax bill depending on where they live in the county. The tax increase will bring in an additional $2.6 million per year.
Daniel Lee of Grantsville blasted commissioners for the county's financial disarray.
"If I ran my home this way, we'd be in the poor house and on the street," Lee said.
But George Smith from Stansbury Park said he accepted the tax increase as necessary.
"My concern is that when you build a building like this (referring to the Deseret Peak Recreation Complex) ... there's probably a reason there's no other facility like this in the state," Smith said,.
All three commissioners approved the tax hike. In explaining his vote, Commissioner Jerry Hurst lamented the layoffs that had to occur so far to make up for shortfalls and said that budget trims spanned several years, but that now it was necessary for everyone to pay their share about $6 per month on a $150,000 home.
Commissioner Bruce Clegg said he favored smaller government, but now the tax increase was neeeded because "we are in an emergency situation on cash and I don't want to see the county become insolvent."
Commissioner Shawn Milne, who took office in January, apologized for the situation.
"This is the result of what we feel is the best we can do," Milne said, recalling the day in February when he came to the realization that "we were bankrupt and don't even know it."
Several factors drove Tooele County into fiscal crisis:
1 • Hazardous waste mitigation fees dwindled from $13 million in 2005 to $4.3 million in 2012, and revenue from chemical-weapon disposal dried up altogether.
2 • Federal grants and payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) shrank due to the 2013 sequester.
3 • Between 2009 and 2012, the county subsidized operations at Deseret Peak from internal restricted accounts, racking up a $6.5 million debt
4 • Projected revenue from leasing jail beds to federal inmates fell short.
Since 2012, general fund revenue dropped from $22.8 million to $17.4 million. The rainy day fund also dipped and needs to be replenished.
Over the past 18 months, the county trimmed 418 employees down to 300 through layoffs and attrition, and in 2013, the county chopped $2.9 million in general fund costs from 21 department budgets.
If it had to slice $2.6 million more, it would mean eliminating 80 more jobs, said Tooele County Treasurer Jeremy Walker, adding that "it would be inconceivable that we could deliver services at that point."
The tax increase is aimed at restoring the county's reserve fund and paying off the Deseret Peak loan over a five-year period.
"We've cut as deep as we can," Walker told The Salt Lake Tribune. "The [tax] increases are needed."
Tooele tax hike
County commissioners unanimously approved a 66 percent property tax increase Tuesday night.
$73.01 more • For a $150,000 home, the county's tax would increase from $106.51 to $179.52 per year.
$132.75 more • For a $150,000 business, the county's tax would increase from $193.65 to $326.40 per year.