Jeremiah Stettler
April 7, 2010

The Utah Taxpayers Association is threatening to sue to stop Salt Lake County from collecting a police fee that thousands of homes and businesses in the unincorporated area paid this month for the first time.

“If the only way to get this problem solved turns out to be litigation,” association spokesman Royce Van Tassell said Tuesday, “so be it.”

Talk of a lawsuit emerged this week in a monthly newsletter, in which the business-backed group challenged the county’s new fee as illegal and unfair.

“It appears to me that the taxpayers association is looking for an issue to justify its existence,” said County Councilman Jim Bradley, a member of the county law-enforcement district board that levied the fee. “It they are so disposed [to sue], let them do it.”

With the recession taking a toll on tax revenues, the county decided late last year to charge homes, businesses and even churches and charitable institutions varying fees for law enforcement.

Homeowners would pay an extra $174 a year, while businesses would pay more — depending on the demand their type of operation places on police services.

But the taxpayers association says the county never mentioned the possibility of new fees when it formed the law-enforcement district last year. Neither, the group says, did a resolution that bestowed taxing authority on the district.

The association also alleges the county imposed the fee unfairly, sometimes sending multiple bills to a single property because it served as the registered address for several businesses. (In one case, the county charged businesses that weren’t located in the unincorporated area.)

Bradley countered that the police fee isn’t unprecedented or illegal. Other special districts already impose fees for water, sewer and garbage collection.

As for fairness?

“There are certain individual circumstances that the police district is willing to look at to make sure that everybody is being treated fairly,” said County Mayor Peter Corroon, also a member of the law-enforcement district board. But, overall, the police fee is a “very fair system.”

The taxpayers association still may skip suing. But, if it does, the group vows to push for legislative changes to “eliminate this fee.”