Only two calendar-year taxing entities are planning Truth in Taxation hearings this December for a property tax increase. Counties and Special Districts in Utah are to be commended for their fiscal restraint.
Wayne County, home to Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park, has seen a dramatic rise in emergency service costs. Following production of the film 127 Hours, which follows the experience of a climber who becomes trapped under a boulder in Wayne County, many visitors to the county have sought the beautiful landscapes in the movie and found themselves in need of search and rescue services. These calls usually require dispatching a helicopter and quickly become very expensive to the county. The bulk of Wayne County’s $80,000 tax increase will be dedicated to meeting those increased emergency service costs. Wayne County hasn’t held a Truth in Taxation hearing since 2003 and has been using fund balance to balance the budget for several years. This year’s proposed tax rate would render a $24.58 tax increase on a $150,000 home and a $44.69 increase on a business of the same value. Wayne County has historically had one of the lowest property tax rates in Utah.
Moab Valley Fire Protection District
The Moab Valley Fire Protection District, primarily active in Grand County, San Juan County and Arches National Park, is proposing a $100,000 tax increase to meet needs in their capital equipment fund. This is a 23.96% revenue increase over the previous year and translates into a $14.19 increase per year on a $223,000 residence. Back in 2012, the District underwent Truth in Taxation to increase tax revenue by 18.68% – roughly $9.00 per year on a $200,000 residence. At the time, the money was needed to cover lease payments on fire trucks. The District’s current fire chief indicated that this year’s $100,000 tax increase sent to the capital equipment fund will be used to replace old engines on two fire trucks and be prepared for three more engine replacements coming up in the future. The money currently going to the capital equipment fund is only sufficient to pay lease payments, but not enough to cover new engines. In the words of the fire chief, the District would like to “save” the new tax revenue so that when engines are due to be replaced, the District will have the finances to do so.
Your Taxpayers Association recognizes the importance of having reliable fire equipment to serve citizens in southeastern Utah. But using a $100,000 permanent property tax increase to “save” for the future is unwise. Rather, we support bonding or borrowing for capital equipment at the time of purchase, so that those benefitting from the equipment are those paying for it. The District should not take money out of the pockets of taxpayers in the district before the money is actually needed to make payments on a purchase. In today’s economy, many taxpayers can barely afford their property taxes, and some even borrow in order to pay their property taxes. If the District thinks it is saving money for the people, this is misguided, because the District is actually taking the current productive value of individuals’ money and locking it up against future use. The Moab Valley Fire Protection District should wait until the time of purchase to tax for capital equipment needs, thereby ensuring that the taxpayers paying for the equipment are the ones benefiting from the equipment.