Want to see something really scary for Halloween? If you live in South Weber, Charleston, Joseph or Hideout, check your mailbox.
Property tax notices, which must be mailed by Nov. 1, will show those cities and towns are doubling their property taxes, or more.
Lesser frights await plenty of other Utahns because tax hikes were ordered this year by 83 local governments — about one of every seven counties, cities, school districts or special service districts. (Residents pay taxes to several such entities, so their taxes stack on top of one another into one big bill).
The worst shocks, or biggest hikes by percentage, are in the South Summit Fire Protection District (up 140.3%), Joseph in Sevier County (130.5%), Charleston in Wasatch County (104.2%), South Weber (99.9%) and Hideout in Wasatch County (96.6%), according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of state Tax Commission data.
The biggest hikes by dollar amount (on the average home price in local areas) are in the Wasatch County School District (up $245.29), Interlaken in Wasatch County ($211.73), Brigham City ($189.15), Canyons School District in Salt Lake County ($140.32) and South Weber ($136.62).
Could have been worse
Taxpayers — sometimes doing good imitations of villagers storming City Hall with pitchforks and torches at Truth in Taxation hearings — managed to petrify local officials into lowering some earlier proposed increases.
In fact, one of every nine proposed tax hikes in Utah were lowered after required Truth in Taxation hearings this year.
Howard Stephenson, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, has said that elected officials tell him that “after taxpayers showed up with pitchforks and hanging rope, they would rather run across the state naked than go through Truth in Taxation again.”
He even allows that the law works maybe too well, and some places delay tax hikes until truly large ones cannot be avoided.
Take, for example, Brigham City.
It first proposed a 111.3% tax hike this year but dropped it to 69.4% (or $189.15 on a typical $446,000 home there).
“Yes, we had a lot of people” at the Truth in Taxation hearing, said City Administrator Jason Roberts. Instead of making small increases through the years to keep up with inflation, he said, officials avoided the painful Truth in Taxation hearings for 18 years. Finally, the city reached the point it could no longer avoid them and needed a big hike.
He said the city was proposing an increase for police and firefighters and for a new recreation center. “The rec center was pulled” from the plan after the Truth in Taxation hearing to reduce the tax hike.
Charleston, a town of 478 people on the shores of Deer Creek Reservoir, originally proposed to nearly triple its taxes with an increase of 198%. After the Truth in Taxation hearing, the hike was cut to 104.2%.
“A lot of people did show up” at Charleston’s hearing, said Mayor Brenda Kozlowski, who added that the tax hike was needed to rebuild a key road in town at a cost of $1.3 million.
She said a main reason the tax hike was reduced is that property valuations came in higher than the town had realized, so it didn’t need to charge as high of a rate. “When we explained [at the hearing] what had happened, they were very kind — and we had someone say, ‘Are you sure this [lower rate] will be enough?’ ”
South Ogden took a most unusual turn after its Truth in Taxation hearing — and not only eliminated it proposed tax hike of 7.2% but actually cut its overall taxes a bit, down 0.2%, according to state data.
Deputy City Administrator Doug Gailey said the proposed hike was based on models the City Council developed to project what is needed to sustain services. But because some road projects were recently completed, “it gave citizens a little tax break.”
Other local governments that reduced proposed tax hikes after Truth in Taxation hearings included: Providence (67.8% to 53.2%), Sandy (32.8% to 22%), Woodland Hills (27.7% to 11.7%), Layton (25% to 17%), Tooele City (10.3% to 6%) and Grand County School District (3.4% to 2.9%).
Teacher salary wars
Fifteen school districts statewide are imposing property tax hikes, mostly to raise salaries to remain competitive with neighbors in the bidding war for teachers.
Salary competition began two years ago, when Park City dramatically raised its teachers’ pay and others scrambled to follow suit.
Some notable increases this year, by dollar amount on average-value homes in their districts, include Wasatch County School District (up $245.29, or 13.6%), Canyons School District (up $140.32 or 9.4%), Murray School District ($122.91 or 12.3%), Park City School District ($115.16 or 7%), Jordan School District ($77.54 or 5.9%) and Davis School District ($58.74 or 4.2%).
“Yes, it is absolutely to address the national teacher shortage,” Canyons School District spokesman Jeff Haney said earlier this year about the hike there.
With the increase, Canyons is providing a $7,655 pay hike for all its teachers, and those at the top of the scale will now be paid more than $80,000 a year, Haney said. Starting pay will be $50,000 a year, tied with Murray for tops in Salt Lake County, but slightly behind the $50,700 starting pay in Park City.
Davis County School District spokesman Christopher Williams said earlier that the tax hike there “definitely is part of the need to step up the effort to compensate teachers as much as we can.”
He said that is difficult in a bedroom community that lacks a lot of industries. “We don’t have the ability to raise taxes like others are doing, so we’re kind of in the middle of the pack with salaries." But the district is funding a 7.65% pay increase and starting salaries will be $43,798.
Police and fire improvements
State data shows that 39 cities and towns are boosting property taxes this year, and many say that it is to improve police and fire service. On top of that, six special fire protection districts are raising taxes as are three law enforcement service areas.
For example, South Weber (tax hike of $83.81 on an average home, up 104.2%) and Brigham City ($189.15 or 69.4%) have increases in part because they are switching from depending on volunteers or on-call firefighters to professional departments.
Providence ($117.40 tax hike on an average home, up 53.2%) raised its taxes to pay for increased charges by neighboring Logan for police and fire service it provides.
Sandy imposed a $53.42 tax hike on an average home, up 22%, to pay for five new police officers and seven new firefighters. Last year, the city used extra money for raises in those departments, saying they were not competitive with other agencies along the Wasatch Front.
Some other major tax increases among fire districts include the Diamond Valley Fire Special Service District in Washington County (a new property tax of $74.95 on an average-priced home), South Summit Fire Protection District ($54.10, up 140.3%), and the Mountain Green Fire Protection District in Morgan County ($67.30, up 90.5%).
Other Wasatch Front tax hikes
The state’s two biggest cities imposed relatively small tax hikes.
Salt Lake City raised taxes by $12.86 on an average home, up 1.6%, plus another 83 cents for its library system, up 0.5%.
In West Valley City, city taxes rose by $2.58 on an average home, up 0.5%.
Elsewhere in Salt Lake County, entities not already mentioned with major hikes included the Cottonwood Heights Parks and Recreation Service Area ($70.99 on an average home, up 30.6%); Bluffdale ($48.95, up 12%); and Alta ($30.86, 3.6%).
Among larger increases in Davis County are Layton (up $41.26 or 17%), Kaysville ($22.27, 6.9%) and Syracuse ($21.25, 7.1%).
In Utah County, government with larger increases included Alpine ($129.68 on an average home, up 32.9%), Woodland Hills ($124.05, 10.7%) and Spanish Fork ($21.11, 15.2%).
And in Tooele County, those with the largest increases included the Stansbury Park Recreation Area ($38.56, 22.8%), the Stansbury Greenbelt Service Area ($37.77, 22.3%) and Tooele City ($25.74, 6%).
Few entities in Weber County raised taxes this year. The only major increase was in the city of Washington Terrace ($80.07 on an average home, up 26.1%).
Property taxes are due Dec. 2 this year, because the normal Nov. 30 due date is on a Saturday. A complete list of all property tax increases is available online at sltrib.com.