Cities deciding one by one whether Salt Lake County residents will see sales-tax hike for roads and transit

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Potholes on 1100 East between Hollywood Ave and 2100 South Monday, March 28, 2016.

South Jordan • City Councilman Patrick Harris doesn’t understand why a $58 million sales-tax hike that Salt Lake County voters rejected in 2015 should now be implemented without a vote of the people.

Supporters of the 0.25 percent tax increase (2.5 cents per $10 purchase) made several arguments, including that the previous vote to raise revenue for local roads and the Utah Transit Authority came at a time when public distrust of UTA was at a peak — and a big overhaul of the agency is underway. Others pointed to a desperate need for money to fix roads and the local control and flexibility that would come with increase.

Harris wasn’t moved. He abstained from voting on a resolution urging Salt Lake County to impose the hike.

“It is my desire to let that vote stand,” he said, referring to the 51-49 percent defeat of Proposition 1 three years ago.

Harris, though, was in the minority. The South Jordan City Council on Tuesday night approved the resolution 4-0.

Mayor Dawn Ramsey said there has been “a lot of misunderstanding” about the proposed tax, and she believed supporting it is in the city’s best interest.

South Jordan is among several cities voting this week. Murray also approved the resolution Tuesday night, council administrator Janet Lopez said.

On Wednesday night, Taylorsville approved the resolution 4-1. A vote from Herriman also was slated.

Holladay is set to vote Thursday. Mayor Rob Dahle will vote for it because “we’re desperately in need of road funds.” He is “fairly confident that this will pass.”

Millcreek, Midvale and South Salt Lake have signed off on the tax hike, along with the town of Alta and the townships of Emigration, Kearns, Magna and White City.

The Salt Lake County Council set up a formula that automatically imposes the tax if city councils representing two-thirds of the countywide population approve.

As of Wednesday afternoon, they were about a third of the way there, with approvals in cities and towns representing more than 300,000 of the county’s estimated 1.1 million residents.

The big undecideds that could well make the difference are Salt Lake City and West Valley City.

Salt Lake City is by far the largest in the county (and the state). It finds itself in something of a pickle.

There is no doubt that the city could use the money to improve its crumbling and long-neglected roads and to beef up bus service, city leaders agree. But the capital recently voted to impose a 0.5 percent sales tax hike (5 cents per $10 purchase) beginning Oct. 1. And the council is considering putting an $87 million bond proposal on the November ballot that would increase property taxes.

“We’re doing our best to consider the realities of the need and weigh the cost to our taxpayers,” Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall told The Tribune on Wednesday.

She says she will put the transportation tax resolution on the agenda for the council’s Tuesday meeting — the last one scheduled before the county deadline.

“My sense is that there is support,” Mendenhall said, adding that thorough surveys and analysis of the city roads and transportation needs leave “no question that we don’t have enough revenue to do what needs to be done.”

Council members are somewhat skittish about the lack of time to air the arguments for and against the 0.25 percent countywide sales tax resolution as thoroughly as it has engaged the public on the proposed bond. (She points to the website spelling out that proposal, which, if the council approves, will ultimately will be decided by voters.)

The state Legislature in March decided to give Salt Lake, Utah and other counties a second chance to pass the transportation/transit sales tax increase — this time without voter approval.

The Salt Lake County Council, however, voted in April to put the decision up to city leaders within the county. Specifically, the council decided in a 6-1 vote to proceed with the increase if it received the approval of cities representing at least two-thirds of the county’s estimated 1.1 million residents.

County Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton said the approach makes sense because “this tax would be benefitting the cities more than the county and we wanted to let the cities weigh in and let us know if this is something that they need. They know their transportation budgets better than we do and what road maintenance costs and all of that.”

She said she hears cities “are hurting for road funds” and many are subsidizing those expenses out of general fund monies that would go to police and other vital services.

At the same time, Newton acknowledged, “people are always concerned about a tax increase.”

“As a county, we want to make sure that we’re letting local decision-makers tell us what they think is best,” she said. “We’ll be anxious to see how many of our cities pass that resolution by June 22.

“If they don’t need it, then we’ll move on and it won’t pass.”