Utah County approves first property tax hike in 23 years

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee, center, voted against a property tax increase this week — the first in Utah County in 23 years. Commissioner Nathan Ivy, right, voted for the increase, along with Commissioner Tanner Ainge, who is not pictured in this Dec. 12, 2017 file photo.

Utah County has voted to increase property taxes for the first time in more than two decades.

Dozens of people spoke against the plan during a six-hour meeting this week, but the commissioners said it was necessary to balance the budget and keep the county from cutting into its financial reserves, the Daily Herald reported.

The hike, which is the first in 23 years, is expected to bring in another $19.3 million to fund county services such as local elections and criminal prosecutions.

It is estimated the increase will cost the average homeowner about $83 more a year, in addition to the $123 in property taxes they already pay annually to the county. Utah County’s property tax rate is among the lowest in the state, and likely still would be despite the increase, said Deputy Clerk Josh Daniels.

The commission is expected to reconsider the tax hike in June, after members decide whether to sell a $10 million equestrian park and calculate how that might affect revenues.

The Utah County Commission passed the increase 2-1 on Tuesday, with Commissioners Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie voting for it and Commissioner Bill Lee opposing.

The vote came after several cuts aimed at mitigating the increase, including a $200,000 cut to the Justice Court and a savings of $12,000 from ending reimbursement for miles put on commissioners’ cars. Four vehicles were also removed from the county’s fleet.

Some cuts were controversial: A number of people at Tuesday’s meeting spoke against cutting a youth development program focused on science, technology, engineering and math. Ainge said he got more angry emails about that proposed trim than about the property tax increase.

The commissioners nevertheless voted to defund it to save $66,000 a year, saying it was worthwhile but not an essential county government service.

With the increase, the county’s 2020 budget will be more than $104 million, compared to $94.3 million this year.