West Valley City • Russell Eastman lives on a street of tidy new homes worth about $200,000 each. His corner of West Valley City between 5600 West and 7200 West from 2100 South to 2700 South has industrial areas, mobile home parks, farms, a new WinCo and Rocky Mountain Raceways.
That slice of the city also has the highest property taxes in Utah.
"I knew taxes were high here, but I didn't know they were the highest," Eastman said when told of his community's dubious distinction. "I thought the place with the highest taxes would be an area with, well, great big houses, not a place like this."
Local governments in the area stack a pile of high separate property taxes on residents. West Valley City has among the highest charged by cities. Granite School District has a median tax rate for schools. The Magna Water District has relatively high taxes for water. And additional taxes are charged by a mosquito abatement district, two water development agencies, a library system and Salt Lake County.
They combined to give Eastman and his neighbors the worst news among Utahns as annual property tax bills arrived during the past two weeks. Taxes in that community are $2,135 on a $200,000 home or $1,501 more than a similarly valued home in Utah's lowest-taxed area, unincorporated Wayne County.
The median among the state's 1,389 separate property tax areas this year created by the crisscrossing boundaries of all its local governments is $1,509 on a $200,000 home, up 2.8 percent from last year, according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of State Tax Commission data.
Taxpayer revolts • That uptick comes as 23 local governments about one of every 20 in Utah raised taxes this year.
That is about half as many as usual.
Perhaps governments sensed that residents struggling in a tough economy were in no mood for higher taxes this election year.
That is especially shown by what happened after the Utah County cities of Orem and Highland initially adopted big tax hikes. "They saw a taxpayer revolt," said Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.
Orem adopted a 25 percent hike decreased from an initially proposed 50 percent increase after 600 angry residents protested at a Truth in Taxation hearing that lasted until 2:30 a.m. Highland upped its property taxes by 58 percent.
However, thousands of upset residents in each city then signed petitions to create ballot referendums on those increases. Certification of signatures came too late for them to appear on ballots this year, so the increases have been put on hold until voters can determine their fate at the polls next year.
"I've seen some tax increases opposed quite vigorously" in the past, Van Tassell said. "But these are the only two where people have been so upset that they have put together a referendum."
Elsewhere this year, four local governments abandoned proposed tax hikes after feeling heat from voters in required Truth in Taxation hearings.
That occurred in Harrisville (which had proposed to double taxes), Hurricane (which dropped a proposed 14 percent hike), the Summit Council Municipal Type Service Area (which punted a 52 percent hike), and Monticello (which not only dropped a proposed a 6.6 percent hike, but then actually lowered overall taxes by 1 percent).
Additionally, Uintah city, in Weber County, slashed a proposed 76 percent tax jump to 46 percent after its Truth in Taxation hearing.
All that shows "Utah's Truth in Taxation system really has become a model across the country for limiting spending and tax increases," Van Tassell said. Under the law, local governments proposing tax rates that would generate more revenue than the previous year plus inflation must advertise and hold public hearings.
Tax increases • Tax hikes that were approved this year range from the high of adding a new $220 tax on a $200,000 home in unincorporated Salt Lake County to replace a much-despised police fee to a low of a $2.20 increase by West Valley City. A list of all increases is online at sltrib.com.
Other increases of note include: Mantua, Cache County, a $105 increase on a $200,000 home (a 37 percent hike); Hatch, Garfield County, a $99 increase (up 67 percent); Tooele School District, $93 (up 9 percent); and Manila, Duchesne County, $88 (up 119 percent).
"We have not raised our taxes since the 1980s," Manila Mayor Chuck Dickison, whose town has the state's largest increase when measured by percentage, said recently to explain such tax hikes.
"We try to treat our citizens well, and it [not boosting taxes] has come back to haunt us. We just can't sustain it any longer."
He said the increase will help with needed road maintenance, water system costs and a new fire station.
"We have to catch up to do our roads and pay our bills," he said.
In another example, the Salt Lake City Suburban Sanitary District No. 1, covering much of Salt Lake Valley's east side, enacted a 90 percent increase, even though that amounts to a small-sounding $20 on a $200,000 home.
"We haven't increased our taxes in over 20 years," Kerry Eppich, its general manager, said recently. But "most of our lines are over 30 years old, with quite a number that are over 50. It's getting to the point where we need to do some rehabilitation."
Why some areas are high • Areas with the highest taxes in Utah like Eastman's corner of West Valley City tend to be where numerous local governments' jurisdictions overlap, including cities, counties, schools, water districts, mosquito abatement districts, cemetery districts, library districts, recreation districts or more.
Other areas with the state's highest overall property taxes include: a southwest corner of Salt Lake City that is in the Magna Water District, $2,134 on a $200,000 home; a slice of Ogden that is in the Uintah Highlands Water and Sewer Improvement District, $2,103; the portion of Traverse Ridge in Draper that is in Salt Lake County, $2,084; and Hildale, the polygamous enclave in Washington County, $2,074.
Areas with the lowest taxes tend to have few local governments that stack taxes on top of one another and where residents may depend on private wells and septic tanks instead of water and sewer districts.
Rural Wayne County has the six lowest-rate property tax areas in the state. In the lowest, its unincorporated area, residents pay taxes only to Wayne County, its school district and the Wayne County Water Conservancy District.
Taxes in 15 largest cities • Even though taxes can vary greatly within individual cities because of crisscrossing local district boundaries, large sections of them often tend to have the same tax rates.
The Tribune compared taxes among such typical areas for the state's 15 largest cities.
The most expensive typical areas in those largest cities include: Ogden, $2,108 on a $200,000 home; West Valley City, $1,885; and Salt Lake City, $1,762.
The lowest such areas among the 15 largest cities are: Murray, $1,321 on a $200,000 home; Provo, $1,334; and Orem, $1,382.
Others include: Taylorsville, $1,674 on a $200,0000 home; Draper, $1,669; Layton, $1,664; Sandy, $1,622; South Jordan, $1,593; West Jordan, $1,581; Bountiful, $1,540; St. George, $1,448; and Logan, $1,421.
Property tax payments are due Nov. 30.
Big differences in property tax
• Utah's highest: northwest corner of West Valley City in the Magna Water District: $2,135 on a $200,000 home.
• State's lowest: unincorporated Wayne County, $634 on a same-valued home.
• Difference: $1,501.
• Median property tax bill in state: $1,509 on a $200,000 home.