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Provo • Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee tried Tuesday to rescind the planned Nov. 3 vote on raising sales taxes for transportation. But amid cranky debate, the other two commissioners voted to reaffirm their action of last week putting the issue on the ballot.
"The people will get to decide on this, not us three, the people of Utah County will get to dictate," Commissioner Greg Graves said of the vote.
But Lee argued the sales-tax hike isn't supported by cities as claimed. He also said it will give too much money to the Utah Transit Authority for low-priority work compared to fixing local roads, and that it could create a confusing mess on how to vote.
Supporters of the tax hike had reported that cities support it, but Lee said he can find only eight of the county's 28 cities and towns that had passed resolutions of support.
The population in those eight cities would only account for about a third of the county's population, Lee said. But Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson said he personally heard support expressed by leaders from cities representing some 70 percent of the populace.
Lee complained that 40 percent of money from the proposed sales-tax hike of a penny for every $4 in sales would go to the Utah Transit Authority but the tax is being promoted mostly as a way to fund improvements in local city and county roads.
Lee said it would be smarter to rescind the election and ask the Legislature to rework laws authorizing the tax hike so that all of it would go for local roads.
All other Wasatch Front counties, including Salt Lake County, are holding elections this year on the tax hike. Many rural counties are following suit.
Lee said UTA promised to use its share of the tax on bus and rail systems for "increased route times, increased Sunday transportation. Are those the needs we have in this county? I beg to differ. I think road needs trump that."
Ellertson, who is on the UTA Board and is its former chairman, disagreed.
"Transit is, and will be in the future, an even more important part of our overall transportation system. I think we have to address the issue now, rather than later, or we will behind the eight ball," he said. "I feel I am doing the right thing in terms of investing in something that is needed."
Among Lee's many complaints were county plans calling for making voters in five cities Orem, Lehi, Alpine, Cedar Hills and Vineyard vote twice in upcoming elections.
Those cities, representing about a third of the county population, vote by mail only to elect city leaders, and see much higher voter turnout because of that method.
Utah County Clerk-Auditor Bryan Thompson says that extra turnout would give those cities disproportionate and unfair clout in determining the fate of the countywide tax hike. So at his suggestion, the commission last week voted to conduct the election in a way to protect "equal access," forcing all areas to vote at in-person polling locations on the tax issue.
Thompson has refused to simply add the tax question to those cities' by-mail ballots, meaning residents would have to vote twice: once for city candidates and once, in person, on the tax hike.
Thompson said Tuesday that he is still negotiating with the cities to find a way so those voters would need to cast only one ballot.
Ellertson encouraged that effort. "We need to try to work together on this and do the best we can in terms of having a fair and equal election."
Other counties, including Salt Lake and Davis, have no problem with some cities voting by mail on the tax question and others voting in-person.
Lee also complained that the other two commissioners, without discussing it with him, decided Tuesday to move public comment to the end of their meetings now after all votes have occurred. It came a week after lengthy comment on the proposed sales-tax hike.
Lee said it would keep the public out of decisions. Ellertson said public comment was taking up too much time and keeping county department heads away from their work because of long commission meetings. He said the commission used to have public comment at the end of meetings, and is merely returning to that practice.