This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Property valuation notices arriving this week contain some pricey news for many Utahns: 40 local governments are seeking tax hikes.
That is slightly less than the 42 that raised them last year, but double the number that had boosted them in 2012.
During the Great Recession and its aftermath, many governments tried to hold down tax increases. That may be over now, judging from the past two years.
Utahns with the worst news are the 250 residents in tiny Rockville, Washington County, near Zion National Park.
That town is proposing a nearly 131 percent jump in its share of property taxes. On a $215,000 home, that amounts to an additional $220.77.
Other increases may not be felt much at all.
For example, West Valley City is bumping up its property taxes by 0.5 percent or $2.37 on a $215,000 home.
Sometimes multiple, overlapping local governments in the same area are raising taxes at the same time, compounding residents' pain.
For example in Logan, the Logan School District is proposing an increase of $109.26 on a $215,000 home; Logan City is calling for a $4.14 hike; and Cache County is seeking a $16.32 boost. The combined total increase would be nearly $130.
The governments proposing tax hikes cities, counties, school districts, water districts, fire districts, law enforcement districts, mosquito-abatement districts and more must hold "truth in taxation" hearings before the increases are final, giving residents another chance to protest. Hearing times are listed on valuation notices.
Between Rockville and a hard place • About one of every 13 local governments in the state 40 of roughly 520 are proposing property tax hikes this year, according to data compiled by the Utah Tax Commission and analyzed by The Salt Lake Tribune.
"It's nowhere near the historic high we have seen," said Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the business-backed Utah Taxpayers Association. "The most I have seen in a year was north of 90."
In recent years, the number had hovered around 20 as many governments and their constituents navigated tough economic waters.
Rockville with the state's highest proposed tax increase is one community that said it could no longer afford to do that.
"The town has been operating with a budget shortfall for several years," Mayor Tracy Dutson explained, "and has been dipping into our reserves to help cover expenses."
He said the town had raised taxes only once previously since it incorporated in 1987. That was about 2008 to pay for police protection.
Town Council member Bernie Harris said money is especially needed for long-ignored road and bridge work. He said providing even bare necessities is not possible without more revenue.
"I don't want to say it's long past due. I hate to raise taxes on your neighbor. But in the same breath, when I have neighbors calling me and saying, 'How come this isn't being taken care of,' it's a matter of costs," Harris said. "If you don't have money, you can't do anything."
And since the town has "no commercial activity to help with our tax base," Dutson said, "the burden falls on property taxes."
Castle Valley, population 300 in Grand County northeast of Moab, also had not had any tax increases since 2005, when it built a Town Hall. But it proposes the state's second-biggest hike this year: up 100.4 percent, or an increase of nearly $134 on a $215,000 home.
"Our equipment is failing," Mayor Dave Erley wrote on the town's website, saying it needs new machinery for road work. He also says the town has to spend more on water studies and legal work to protect the wells that residents use.
When is an increase not an increase? • Some local governments say their proposed increases aren't really tax hikes at all.
For example, the Salt Lake City School District is paying off bonds and could have lowered tax payments by the amount it had been paying for the borrowing.
Instead, the school board decided to keep taxes at current levels to help reduce class sizes, provide teacher pay raises and pay teachers for training days.
But under truth-in-taxation laws, essentially extending payments for bonds that are retired is considered a tax increase in the school district's case nearly $47 more on a $215,000 home.
Van Tassell criticizes such moves.
"Taxpayers approved a bond. They anticipated that when that bond was paid for, that they wouldn't be paying that money again," he said. "Now it's paid for, the school district is rather cynically saying, 'We want to keep spending that money.' "
Van Tassell said truth-in-taxation laws and hearings with upset crowds are good tools to help keep down taxes or prevent questionable increases. "They are the reason that property taxes here are below the national average."
In a somewhat similar situation, the Ogden School District opted to keep its actual tax rate on each home the same as last year, said its business administrator Zane Woolstenhulme.
But to produce the same amount of revenue, that rate should have dropped a bit because of new growth and development.
So the district must hold a truth-in-taxation hearing about what the law considers a proposed increase of $73.55 on a $215,000 home. Woolstenhulme said that includes money to help replace an elementary school and to pay off some judgments against the district.
The Panguitch-based Upper Sevier River Water Conservancy District is proposing a 488 percent jump the largest, percentage-wise, in the state amounting to $19.63 on a $215,000 home. However, it also is billed as a tax decrease.
Camille Moore, secretary of its board, explains that the area recently withdrew from the Central Utah Project. The Sevier River district will charge about 40 percent of the taxes that CUP did and will fund a few essential local irrigation and drinking water programs.
"Overall, it is a decrease," she said, "although it looks like a big increase."
Other hefty increases • Among some of the other proposed big tax increases statewide are:
Kaysville • The Davis County city proposes a 99 percent jump, costing $107.73 more on a $215,000 home. City Finance Director Dean Storey said that was forced because voters approved a ballot proposition to cease transferring money from city utility funds to its general fund. The increase also seeks to bolster staffing at the fire department and add extra police officers.
Unincorporated Tooele County • The county proposes a new tax of $101.10 on a $215,000 home for its municipal-type services fund for services in unincorporated areas. Commissioner Shawn Milne said the move is meant to make up for a loss of revenue from mitigation fees from now-completed Army destruction of chemical arms stored there and from decreasing fees from waste companies such as EnergySolutions. He noted payments in lieu of taxes from the federal government also are down, so the increase would help cover shortfalls.
Clinton • The Davis County city proposes a 39 percent boost, amounting to an additional $82.78 on a $215,000 home. "It is wholly for streets," said City Manager Dennis Cluff. This is the first time the city has had a truth-in-taxation hearing for a tax bump.
Elk Ridge • The Utah County city is proposing a 23.3 percent tax hike, costing $64.92 more on a $215,000 home. Mayor Hal Shelley said it is to replace some aging street equipment, expand snow removal into new areas and to handle decaying infrastructure such as old water and sewer pipes.
Morgan County School District • It seeks a hike of $53.33 on a $215,000 home. Superintendent Doug Jacobs said that is "a moderate increase to fund technology needs, some building environmental control and the purchase of one new school bus. It will also generate enough to reimburse a judgment recovery." "Our district has serious financial challenges and could use more revenue," Jacobs said, "but the school board members do not want to burden the taxpayers in the county."
Heber City • The Wasatch County city seeks a 32 percent increase, up $43.28 on a $215,000 home. City Manager Mark Anderson said the increase, the first proposed since 1990, is to construct a new public services building.
Some of the biggest boosts:
• Rockville, Washington County: up 130.8 percent, or $220.77 on a $215,000 home.
• Castle Valley, Grand County: up 100.4 percent, or $133.98 on a $215,000 home.
• Logan School District: up 12.1 percent, or $109.26 on a $215,000 home.
• Kaysville, up 99.6 percent, or $107.73 on a $215,000 home.
• Tooele County Municipal-Type Service Fund, a new tax of $101.10 on a $215,000 home.
To see a breakdown of all 40 proposed local-government tax hikes, go to sltrib.com.