|Tax hikes are few, but steep|
28 governments consider raising property taxes to combat job, revenue loss
By Lee Davidson|
SALT LAKE CITY — For those who think their property taxes are rising too high, it could be worse.
Try living in Hildale, the well-known polygamist enclave on the Arizona border.
It is proposing to more than triple its property tax this year, going from $231 to $779 on a $250,000 home — an increase of $548.
"I know some people seeing that here are probably falling over," Mayor David Zitting said. "But it's a matter of trying to make our budget work."
Hildale is one of just 28 local governments in Utah proposing to raise their overall property tax revenues this year, according to data collected by the Utah Tax Commission.
They represent about 5 percent of the 520-or-so local governments in the state that charge such tax, ranging from cities to counties, school districts, water districts, cemetery districts and even mosquito abatement districts.
The number of increases is down from recent years as governments appear to be trying to hold the budget line during tough times in the recession. Last year, twice as many local governments — 56 — raised property taxes. The year before that, 81 did.
Those proposing raises list reasons ranging from loss of business revenue during the recession to the need for local public works projects.
Hildale's problems seem to be unique in size and source.
Zitting would not talk in detail about the problems of his city, population 1,956. He did say the city had not raised taxes in 15 years, and that helped to create a budget hole. He said some local firms had gone out of business, and that cost the city tax revenue.
"Everybody in this area has budgeting problems. In southern Utah, there's been a lot of layoffs and discontinuing of programs" by cities because of loss of revenue in the recession, he said.
But other media have noted that the Fundamentalist LDS Church has been abandoning Hildale and its sister Colorado City, Ariz., for other locations including Eldorado, Texas; Mancos, Colo.; Pringle, S.D.; Mesquite and Piute, Nev.; and other places in Idaho and British Columbia.
So numerous companies owned by FLDS members have closed and moved — and taken their tax revenues with them. Also, as FLDS members and law enforcement officials have wrangled over legal charges and ownership of property, the taxes on many properties there have not been paid in years.
Zitting said the city government has cut services, including fire and police. He said it has no alternative now to make ends meet except to raise taxes. A hearing on the proposed increases is scheduled for Tuesday.
Utah's truth-in-taxation laws require public hearings and newspaper ads any time local governments propose to raise overall property tax revenues — not rates — beyond what they collected the previous year, not counting money coming from any new growth.
After the truth-in-taxation hearings are held, local governments set their final tax rates. Final property tax notices must be mailed by Nov. 1, and taxes are due on Nov. 30.
Hildale is not the only place facing some hefty proposed tax increases.
Helper, for example, is proposing a $214 tax increase, or 86 percent, on a $250,000 home.
"We have lost a lot of revenue from sales tax," some from a loss of tourism and some from local companies having financial problems, said Jona Skerl, the city recorder.
Also, Salina is proposing a $162 increase, or 65 percent, on a $250,000 home. City recorder Sherri Westbrook said much of that is going to repair roads in the city "that are very, very bad" — including a project to replace most of its Main Street along with curb and gutter.
Westbrook noted the tax hike is big now, in part, because the city had not raised taxes in years to save for such a project.
"I honestly can't even remember the last time we raised taxes," she said.
The South Salt Lake County Mosquito Abatement District is proposing an increase that doesn't look like too much — $3.44 on a $250,000 house — but that doubles what the tax was previously.
"It is to pay off debt for a new building," said Brian Hougaard, assistant manager of the district. "We understand it's not the best time to do it," but said the building is needed and previous efforts to renovate its present building did not work.
"I know you always hear this, but the plan is that when the debt is paid off, hopefully the property tax will be lowered back," he said.
Even though it proposed to double its taxes in a heavily populated area of Salt Lake County, Hougaard said only six people showed up at the district's truth-in-taxation hearing to raise questions or protest.
Among some of the other large proposed increases are: the Hurricane Fire District, which did not previously charge property tax, $148 on a $250,000 home; Davis School District, $120.45; Sunset, $106.43; Daggett County School District, $73.29; Weber County School District, $72.32; Midvale, $62.29; and Garfield County School District, $50.19.
A list of all proposed tax hikes is available online at deseretnews.com.
Originally published Sunday, Aug. 15, 2010
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