A TV and social media advertisement (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uV97ojgi6e4) released by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams’ congressional campaign made an inaccurate claim about the mayor and his property tax record during his tenure as Salt Lake County Mayor. The video claims that the mayor has lowered Salt Lake County’s tax rate every year since he has been in office. This claim is playing games with Utah’s property tax system and is meant to hide the truth from taxpayers and voters.
It is important to understand that Utah’s property tax system is a revenue-based system and not a rate-based system. Each year, every taxing entity (cities, counties, school districts, special districts etc.) has a new rate set which will generate the same amount of revenue the entity collected the year before, plus additional tax revenue from growth (new developments) within the entity. If property values in the area increase, the rate will automatically decrease. This happens automatically outside of any decision made by the elected officials of the taxing entity.
If the elected officials want to collect more revenue than the entity collected than the prior year plus growth in the entity’s boundaries, then the Truth-in-Taxation process is triggered, which requires the entity to hold a public meeting on the tax increase before being able to collect additional revenue. Revenue increases are what a taxing entity should be held accountable for when discussing property taxes.
In 2015, Mayor McAdams and the Salt Lake County Council approved a property tax increase that raised $9.4 million in additional revenue for the county. According to the State Tax Commission, the rate for Salt Lake County, to generate previous year’s revenue, would have been set at .002261. The rate that was adopted, to gain additional funding for the county, was .002371. For the McAdams campaign to claim tax rates have been kept down when there is a clear increase like this, is misleading.
“The fact is Mayor McAdams and the Salt Lake County Council have increased property taxes during his tenure,” said Billy Hesterman, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association. “To convince the public of any other story is an attempt to hide what is reality.”
In addition to increasing property taxes, Salt Lake County has also sought twice to increase the county’s sales tax rate. In 2015, McAdams and the County Council placed Prop. 1 on the ballot to increase the sales tax rate by .25%. Voters in Salt Lake County voted down that proposal but just this year the county moved forward with increasing the sales tax rate by .25% after a supermajority of city councils within the county passed resolutions urging the county raise the sales tax rate. Mayor McAdams did little, if anything, to protect taxpayers from this increase.
The Utah Taxpayers Association knows Mayor McAdams is a supporter of transparency. We call on him and his campaign to be clear about the tax record of the county while he has been in office and recognize the increases that have been passed during his tenure.
The Utah Taxpayers Association has not endorsed a candidate in the 4th Congressional District race but works to correct erroneous tax claims made by candidates and officeholders.