SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County is another step closer to bringing back the once-failed $58 million sales tax hike for transportation projects back from the grave.
Salt Lake City on Tuesday joined a growing group of municipalities that have passed resolutions in support — bumping the county closer to its needed threshold to pass the tax hike, which would raise taxes by roughly one penny for every $4 spent to pay for transit and road upgrades.
Though the Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously in favor, they did so begrudgingly.
"I'm still upset at the county council," said James Rogers, accusing the county of "thrusting" the decision on cities, especially at a time when Salt Lake City had just implemented its own 0.5 percent sales tax hike.
"I hate to say this, but it was really cowardly of them to do that," Rogers said. "It should have been a county initiative.
City Councilman Charlie Luke said he "couldn't agree more."
"To push this decision off on to cities definitely ... demonstrated a lack of leadership," Luke said, but he also said he worried if Salt Lake City didn't support the tax hike, the county wouldn't give the city "a valid seat at the table" when it decides what projects to fund.
The day before the council's vote, Mayor Jackie Biskupski issued a statement saying now wasn't the time to implement the tax, noting that it would come soon after the city imposed its own sales tax hike and before the city is expected go to voters in November to ask for approval of an $87 million bond for roads.
But City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall supported the tax hike, noting that even with the city's own 0.5 percent tax hike and with revenue from the potential bond, "We still aren't meeting the full need for streets in our city," with more than two-thirds of the city's roads rating as poor or worse.
So nevertheless, the City Council signaled support from Utah's capital, meaning the county only needs support from perhaps one more city — like West Valley City — to enact the tax.
The Salt Lake County Council could have enacted the tax on its own, but council members opted to take a different course. At the time, County Council members supported the resolution as a way to let the government closest to the people decide the fate of the tax hike.
SB136, the massive transportation bill the Utah Legislature passed this year, granted counties the power to revive the 0.25 percent tax hike shot down by Salt Lake County voters in 2015. But instead, the Salt Lake County Council in April passed an ordinance leaving the decision up to city leaders.
To push this decision off on to cities definitely ... demonstrated a lack of leadership.
–City Councilman Charlie Luke
If councils for cities, towns and metro townships representing 67 percent of Salt Lake County's population adopt resolutions supporting the tax, the increase will automatically go into effect under the county ordinance, which gives cities a deadline of June 22 to signal support.
In addition to Salt Lake City, several municipalities across the county have already passed resolutions of support, including Millcreek, Midvale, South Salt Lake, South Jordan, Taylorsville, Murray, Holladay, Alta, Emigration, Kearns, Magna and White City. The Cottonwood Heights City Council also passed a resolution late Tuesday night.
That means, so far, cities representing about 56 percent of the county's population have passed resolutions. Only 11 percent remains in order to enact the tax.
All eyes are on the county's second largest city, West Valley, which makes up nearly 12 percent of the county's population of roughly 1.1 million.
It's not yet clear, however, what the West Valley City Council will do. The council did discuss the tax last week but requested more information. While council members acknowledged West Valley could use additional transportation dollars, some also expressed some concerns about the process, said West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle.
"Whether they put it on the agenda or pass a resolution, I just don't know," Pyle said, noting that next week's agenda will be posted Thursday.
Next week marks cities' last chances to act before the county's June 22 deadline.
The Copperton Town Council approved a resolution last month opposing the resolution, but so far no other cities have followed suit. Some leaders from Riverton, Herriman and West Jordan have expressed reluctance to support the tax hike, but haven't yet voted. Councils for Draper and Sandy also haven't yet voted.
If the tax is implemented, the county would be able to collect 100 percent of its revenue for the first nine months of the tax. After that, the revenue would be split 40 percent to the Utah Transit Authority, 40 percent to cities and 20 percent to counties.
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