The Utah County Commission on Wednesday voted to approve the 2021 budget changes, a move paving the way for the governing body to reverse a controversial property tax increase in 2019.
The budget changes, which were proposed by Commissioner Bill Lee, include a decrease of $ 4.8 million in the county’s forecast property tax revenue for 2021, which Lee says equates to a reduction of about 25% in the 2019 increase in the portion of property taxes collected. by the county.
Additionally, the changes approved on Wednesday include an increase in sales tax revenue forecast of $ 2.8 million due to the Utah County economy outperforming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee referred to the changes, which he and Commissioner Tom Sakievich approved in a 2-0 vote, as a “preliminary step … as we take a more in-depth look at what we can do” to reduce the rate of the property tax. He noted that the commission will not set this year’s property tax rate until June 30.
“If that passes today, that $ 4.8 million in the form of tax rate reduction will be easy, because we’ve kind of already put it in place,” the commissioner said on Wednesday.
The proposal to reduce projected property tax revenues was passed without the support of county finance staff.
Jeremy Walker, director of financial services, told commissioners that finance staff recommended the proposed changes “with the exception of reducing property tax revenues, especially because the reduction in property tax revenues does not match the reduction corresponding spending, which is the preferred method of matching property taxes with the continued reduction in spending. “
Walker, who noted that the finance team recently shrank from two to six people “in part because of this tax hike”, warned that the proposed property tax cut “could have a dramatic impact.” out of various county funds, not just the $ 100 million. general fund which was discussed at the meeting.
The CFO also emphasized “caution” over a 10-year budget projection tool that the two commissioners said they used to review the budget, which he said was a big deal. “beta version”.
“And if this is the only model that is used, we have concerns about it,” he said.
Lee acknowledged that the projection tool would not provide “perfect projections”, but added that “this is why forecasting budgets should always be done in pencil. Because as you expect in the future, it will take some erasure time here and there. “
Commissioners clashed with budget staff earlier this year over a proposal to move staff from the Utah County Clerk / Auditor’s office to that of the commission. The change, which Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson called “crazy,” was approved and then reversed.
Several residents spoke out in favor of efforts to reduce the property tax rate, which a previous composition of the commission approved in December 2019 in an attempt to balance the county’s budget and accommodate a population in rapid growth.
“I think we all realize there was a major problem last year with taxes,” said Dale Summerhays. “It’s a serious problem because it will force people to leave their homes if it continues at this rate.”
Summerhays also urged the commission to do something “to prevent this thing (a property tax increase) from happening in the future.”
Lee said he would continue to “look to lower property tax and also analyze where we may have overcharged.”
“Is there more? Is there maybe more? I hope so, because I think there can be,” he said.
The commissioner continued, “I believe the citizens of this riding have a mandate to be financially responsible, to be limited in what we do and to find ways to alleviate some of the burden that they are doing. have on them.
A resident asked why the commissioners were making budget decisions when there was a vacant position on the commission. Sakievich said that “the vacancy was unexpected” and that the commissioners “have (already) put in place a process to start having this dialogue, and we are being constrained by a number of weeks to finish it from here.”
The Commissioner acknowledged that the vacancy had “made things difficult”, but added that he believed that “we can still move forward in the process to at least address the areas where we think we can find efficiencies and go. forward, with just the two of us.
The Utah County Republican Party will select a candidate to fill the vacant committee position on Saturday.
Connor Richards covers government, the environment and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be contacted at [email protected] and 801-344-2599.