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Nothing can bring out taxpayers wielding verbal pitchforks and torches like a proposed tax increase — and the Salt Lake County Council is scheduled to debate Tuesday whether to place a sales-tax hike for transportation on the Nov. 3 ballot.

"It's going to be feisty, not only among the council members … but I think there's going to be some very passionate citizens," said Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove, a Republican.

He said the council appears evenly split on the issue, which could raise sales taxes by a penny for every $4 in sales. Forty percent of the money would go to the Utah Transit Authority, and the rest would go to cities and the county to improve local roads.

"I think it's going to be a close vote. It could go either way," Snelgrove said.

Statewide, 106 cities have passed resolutions urging counties to put the issue on the ballot this year as allowed by the Legislature to help fix local roads. Mayors appeared at county council and commission meetings around the state last month to personally urge that action.

Many counties are waiting to see what happens in Salt Lake County before they act because it is the state's largest, and efforts to educate voters would be easier and cheaper if it participates along with all other interested counties at the same time.

Since mayors delivered their resolutions, Snelgrove said, "the citizenry has been weighing in. We're hearing more and more — a lot of calls, a lot of emails."

Snelgrove said he personally will oppose the measure. Last year, he successfully pushed an ordinance to require tax-hike initiatives to appear on ballots only in general elections in even-numbered years, when voter turnout is higher than in municipal elections.

"I believe the reasons why our council passed that ordinance were valid then and they are valid today," Snelgrove said.

The Utah Taxpayers Association and the conservative Americans for Prosperity also oppose the tax hike for that reason, and others.

Billy Hesterman, vice president of the taxpayers association, said the Legislature this year approved "a 5-cent gas tax increase and a $75 million property tax increase. ... Utah's families and businesses do not need the government to take any additional money from them this year."

He also said collecting money for mass transit and roads through a sales tax "unfairly charges those who are not using the roads as much as others."

Evelyn Everton, state director for Americans for Prosperity, notes that the state estimates the tax will cost $50 a person or $200 for a family of four per year.

"That's enough to buy one week of groceries, three months of electric bills, or even four tanks of gasoline," she said. Her group has been fighting it with mailers, emails and phone calls — and even gave away some $50 gift cards to a few lucky shoppers to draw attention to the cost of the tax.

Everton also opposes giving so much of the tax increase to the UTA.

In a weekend Tribune commentary, she wrote that UTA seeks more money while it "has engaged in questionable sweetheart deals. ... UTA executives have received six-figure salaries and tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses and perks in the past" and are "taking trips to exotic locations all over the world."

But cities say the extra tax is needed to fix funding holes that came by not raising the state's gasoline tax for 18 years, which left them to delay or skip important road maintenance and projects.

"Nothing is more important to a strong economy or directly impacts it more than mobility and good transportation infrastructure," said Abby Albrecht, director of the Utah Transportation Coalition, an arm of the Salt Lake Chamber that has pushed for the tax hike. —

Meetings on sales tax hike

The Salt Lake County Council is scheduled to allow public comment on a sales tax hike at two public meetings on Tuesday: at a 1 p.m. committee of the whole, and a 4 p.m. council meeting. Meetings are at the County Complex, 2100 S. State, Salt Lake City.