"September was one of the best months we've seen in a long time," said Lance Brown, director of management and budget in the County Auditor's Office, which tracks incoming revenue. The upswing in September, the latest month for which sales tax receipts are available, lifted the county's portion for the year's first nine months to $91.6 million, up 6.2 percent over the first three quarters of 2010.
"That's truly great news," Brown told the County Council this week.
Collections of property tax revenues also are rising, largely because the Treasurer's Office had more success rounding up 2011's unprecedented volume of tax obligations.
Treasurer Wayne Cushing told the council his office sent out bills for $1,015,500,000 this year, up $24.5 million over 2010. Through Monday, he added, only $59.2 million was considered delinquent (Nov. 30 was the deadline for residents and businesses to pay property taxes), down from $78.2 million at a comparable point a year ago.
Cushing credited much of the collection success to a combined effort with the Auditor's Office to track down people who had moved. After the auditor sent out valuation notices in July, Cushing had members of his staff go through letters returned as undeliverable and find updated addresses.
"We have people who have expertise in locating addresses," he said, noting that making corrections early resulted in more payments by last week's deadline. "When people get the notices, they pay."
The increased billing total, Cushing stressed, did not result from tax hikes by the county itself but by several entities whose bills are delivered and collected by the county.
West Valley City raised its taxes 18 percent, he said, while Salt Lake City library property taxes went up 2.5 percent. Granite, Salt Lake and Jordan school districts all had tax hikes, too.
The jump in billings also included $2 million in unpaid fees, primarily from the $162 charge on unincorporated county residents for law enforcement services. These were converted into property tax assessments when homeowners and businesses failed to pay all or part of that fee.
"Out of that $2 million, we have collected all but $200,000," Cushing said, adding his office also has rounded up all but $25,000 of the $1 million in delinquent police charges from 2010. "Many people ended up paying the fee without really knowing it."
The police fee will be gone in 2012. Unincorporated area residents will pay for law enforcement instead with a property tax payment to the Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area. Their property taxes for municipal services will go down by the same amount.
Prospects of collecting even more delinquent funds could be enhanced, Cushing said, if Salt Lake and other counties require developers to clear up all tax responsibilities before planners approve any of their development plans.
Cushing said 40 percent of remaining delinquencies involved businesses that apparently found interest rates on county late fees to be less expensive than borrowing money to pay back taxes.
"They were treating the county as a bank," he added.
While county officials were encouraged by these latest figures, they remain concerned that the upswing could be short-lived if European debt problems lead to a new round of global economic problems.
"If Europe falls into recession," Councilman David Wilde warned, "the world is so interconnected we probably will, too."
Show us the money
Total amount of bills sent by the county this year
Increase over 2010
The amount considered delinquent
Delinquent amount at a comparable point a year ago
Property tax collections
Salt Lake County 2011 2010
Total billed $1.02 billion $991 million
Collected through Dec. 5 $956 million $912 million
Total delinquent $59.2 million $78.2 million
Source: Salt Lake County Treasurer