Thornley King looks around a private junkyard that he and his brothers run in a remote slice of Salt Lake City at 7200 West and 2100 South, near Magna. Junk cars are piled high. Cats climb on old tires near a "keep out" sign. Mosquitoes swarm. Next door are other dumps strewn with trash.
He shakes his head when he is told that the area, technically named Tax Area 13G, now has Utah’s highest property taxes.
Big differences in property tax
Utah’s highest » In a slice of Salt Lake City around 7200 West and 2100 South, $2,458 on a $225,000 home
Utah’s lowest » In unincorporated Wayne County, $700 on a $225,000 home
Difference » $1,758
Median property tax bill » $1,671 on a $225,000 home
"When you think of a place with high taxes, you think of somewhere with fancy houses, tall buildings or a big, nice industrial area. You don’t think of this place. It is dump next to dump next to dump," King says, while zapping mosquitoes.
He pulls last year’s tax notice from behind the visor of his old pickup truck. Taxes then were $7,529 on the 8.3-acre junk yard valued at $388,100. Taxes are going up another $200 this year. "I had to borrow money to pay taxes last year. I don’t know how I’m going to pay them this year," he says.
As Utahns are receiving their final property tax bills in the mail, they may notice changes as 42 local governments raised taxes this year, nearly twice as many as last year.
Lowest tax » Those receiving the best news in their tax notices live about 200 miles from King in unincorporated Wayne County, home of Capitol Reef National Park — arguably one of the most scenic parts of the state.
Taxes in unincorporated Wayne County on a $225,000 home are $700, less than a third of the $2,458 they would be in King’s Tax Area 13G. The median for all the property tax areas in the state is $1,671 on a $225,000 home, according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of Utah Tax Commission data.
"We strive to keep taxes low here," says Wayne County Commission Chairwoman DeRae Fillmore. "Unemployment here is about 12 percent. ... So we try to fund people’s needs, and not necessarily everything they want."
But low — or high — tax rates by individual governments really are only a tiny part of the reason why taxes vary so much in Utah.
Stacked taxes » A key reason is how many different local governments stack taxes on top of each other.
In unincorporated Wayne County, residents pay taxes only to the county and the local school district.
In contrast, King — with taxes that are 3.5 times higher — pays to nine different local governments: Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City School District, Salt Lake City Library, Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake City, Magna Mosquito Abatement District, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, Magna Water District and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.
Almost all of the areas with the highest property taxes in Utah pay to large numbers of local governments, while those with the lowest taxes pay to just two or three. The state has created 1,385 different tax areas because of the many crisscrossing boundaries of its 500-plus local governments that range from cities to counties and districts for fire, police, recreation, cemeteries and water.
Highest taxes » The five highest-taxed areas are: King’s Tax Area 13G at $2,458 on a $225,000 home; a slice of West Valley City within the Magna Water District, $2,396; part of Salt Lake City within Granite School District and the Magna Water District, $2,376; the polygamous town of Hildale, Washington County, $2,347; and part of unincorporated Salt Lake County in the Cottonwood Heights Recreation District, $2,334.
The five lowest-taxed areas are all in Wayne County: the unincorporated area at $700 on a $225,000 home; Torrey at $720; Loa at $727; Bicknell, $728; and Lyman, $742.
Besides overlapping tax boundaries, rates make a difference.
For example, many governments that King pays to increased tax rates this year — which catapulted his Area 13G from merely among the highest taxed places to the highest. Salt Lake City raised taxes on a $225,000 home by $62.74; Salt Lake County by $56.31; and Salt Lake City School District by $24.75.
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