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Dozens of local governments proposing tax hikes
Tax notices » Before the increases are final, the governments must hold “truth-in-taxation” hearings.
First Published Jul 23 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:35 pm

Many Utahns opening property tax valuation notices arriving this week may be in for some bad news.

Nearly four dozen local governments in Utah are proposing to raise property taxes this year — twice as many as last year.

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Many say they tried to avoid tax hikes during recent bad-economy years, but pressing needs are forcing them to relent now.

However, governments proposing increases — cities, counties, school districts, water districts, fire districts, mosquito abatement districts and more — must first hold "truth-in-taxation" hearings before the tax hikes are final, giving residents one more chance to protest.

Tax increases range from $297 on a $225,000 home — a 118 percent increase — in Enoch, a town of 6,000 residents near Cedar City, to a modest $1.36 hike in Lewiston, Cache County. A full list of all proposed tax increases is available here.

Sometimes multiple, overlapping local governments in the same area are raising taxes at the same time, compounding residents’ pain.

For example in Salt Lake City, the city itself is proposing to raise tax by $67.57 on a $225,000 home; Salt Lake County proposes a $56.31 hike; and the Salt Lake City School District is seeking to raise it by $24.75. The combined total increase would be $148.63.

More hikes » About one of every 11 local governments in Utah — 46 of about 520 — are proposing property tax increases this year, according to data compiled by the Utah Tax Commission. The number seeking hikes had been decreasing in recent bad-economy years since the peak of the recession, when 81 governments raised property taxes in 2008.

But this year, several now raising taxes said they could no longer wait to act.

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"Because of the economy the past four or five years, we had to dig out of savings to continue to provide services" while trying to avoid tax hikes, said Rob Dotson, city manager for Enoch, which has the highest-in-the-state proposed tax increase by dollar at $297 on a $225,000 home.

"We’ve kept vital services, but cut others" in recent years, he said. But he said the city reached the point that it had to impose its first tax increase in memory, and for the first time ever is going through the truth-in-taxation process to raise them.

The next-highest tax hike by dollar amount is $229 on a $225,000 home proposed by Santaquin, exactly a 100 percent increase or doubling.

"The tax increase is for roads," said Santaquin City Manager Ben Reeves, adding it is the first property tax increase there in more than 25 years. "We have considerable issues with our roads," and said it reached the point officials could not longer defer action on them. He said Santaquin’s share of state gasoline taxes simply do not provide enough to maintain them.

Mayors statewide earlier this summer asked the Legislature to consider raising gas taxes by 5 to 10 cents a gallon because of similar complaints by many cities. The fueltax was last raised 16 years ago, when it went from 19 cents to 24.5 cents a gallon. That tax also generates less money now because cars are more fuel efficient, and people have driven less during bad-economy years.

Justified? »Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, questions the claims of some governments that they tried to avoid raising taxes in bad times, but just couldn’t afford to hold offany longer.

"If districts have budgeted correctly and said, ‘We’re only going to provide the services that are absolutely necessary, we will be conservative in our projections for revenue, and try to spend as little as possible,’ generally you don’t find yourself in a need to raise taxes even when the economy turns south," Van Tassell said.

Also as the economy improves — asindicators say it has recently — "Sales tax revenue also turns around," so that should also lessen the need for any property tax increase, he said.

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