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Dozens of Wasatch Front mayors plan to parade together Tuesday into meetings to tell county leaders that they need a sales-tax hike for local roads and to urge them to put that on the ballot this year.
Opponents also plan to attend such meetings in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties to argue that the proposed increase is unfair, would create too much burden and that a vote should wait until next year's presidential election when turnout would be higher.
County leaders are not expected to vote Tuesday on whether to put the issue on the ballot, but are expected to listen to arguments and begin discussions of their own. They would need to vote by about Aug. 1 for the issue to make the Nov. 3 ballot.
At issue is whether to raise taxes by a quarter-cent per $1 dollar in sales. The Legislature this year allowed counties to put that tax hike before voters.
Along the Wasatch Front, 40 percent of the money would go to the Utah Transit Authority. Another 40 percent would go to cities and 20 percent to counties for local roads and other transportation projects including trails and bike paths.
Statewide, 86 cities and towns have passed or are considering resolutions calling for a vote on the tax increase this year, said Abby Albrecht, director of the Utah Transportation Coalition. Her group was set up by the Salt Lake Chamber to push the tax hike, and it has helped to coordinate efforts by cities.
All 16 cities in Salt Lake County have passed or are considering such resolutions, as have 12 of 15 cities in Davis County, 13 of 15 in Weber County and 13 of 22 in Utah County.
Albrecht said delegations of mayors plan to tell county leaders about their need to up the tax. Local gasoline taxes have not risen in 18 years although one is slated for Jan. 1, with automatic inflation-based increases to follow. Cities have been forced to either raise property taxes or delay needed maintenance, according to supporters.
The new tax hike, she said, "will provide resources that address these issues on a local level and keep our economy moving."
Billy Hesterman, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said his group will attend to explain that it prefers a user tax, such as raising gasoline tax more, to ensure that highway users pay for roads.
He also said municipal elections this year are expected to have a low turnout, so his group prefers waiting until next year's presidential election to decide the issue.
Evelyn Everton, state director of Americans for Prosperity of Utah, said her group will attend to oppose raising taxes, noting the Legislature boosted property and gasoline taxes this year and adding a sales-tax hike is too much.
"Even worse? Almost half the funding would go to the wasteful Utah Transit Authority where it's common practice to use taxpayer dollars to award massive bonuses," she said. UTA lowered annual bonuses last year with the sales-tax issue on the horizon.
Utah County Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson, a former UTA chairman, said his county has already discussed the issue with cities at regional planning meetings, and "there seems to be a general feeling that we need to do it, but there is some question about the timing."
He noted some Utah County cities are planning ballot questions of their own on bond or other tax issues, and they wonder if putting too many before voters could sink them all.
Davis County Commissioner John Petroff Jr. said his county has the same concerns with school district and other tax issues already on the ballot.
But as the former mayor of West Point, Petroff said he is convinced that cities need the tax hike.
"Sometimes roads are like bills. Sooner or later you have to pay them, pay for the chuckholes that need to be fixed and roads that need to be built," he said. "If you spend a little on maintenance now, it may save spending a lot later."
"I'm excited to hear what the mayors have to say regarding the individual needs in their cities," said Weber County Commission Chairman Kerry Gibson. "What their needs are will make a difference."
Leaders among Wasatch Front counties said they have talked to one another about possible plans, but have not tried to coordinate any decisions on whether to hold a vote this year.
Following are meetings scheduled Tuesday when delegations of mayors plan to ask county leaders to put a sales-tax hike on the ballot:
• Davis County: 10 a.m., Room 303, 61 S. Main St., Farmington.
• Salt Lake County: 4 p.m., Room N1-110, 2001 S. State St., Salt Lake City.
• Utah County: 9 a.m., Room 1400, 100 E. Center St., Provo.
• Weber County: 10 a.m., Commission Chambers, Third Floor, 2380 Washington Blvd., Ogden.