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Elimination of police fee could mean property tax increase in Salt Lake County

By Dennis Romboy | Posted - May 23, 2011 at 4:53 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Homeowners in unincorporated Salt Lake County can expect a property tax increase in the next year.

But as unpleasant as that sounds it could actually save them money.

Salt Lake County public meetings
Public meeting times and locations:

• June 7, 6-8 p.m., Kearns Library, 5350 S. 4220 West

• June 8, 7-9 p.m., Peruvian Park Elementary, 1545 E. 8425 South

• June 13, 7-9 p.m., Whitmore Library, 2197 E. Fort Union Blvd.

• June 14, 7-9 p.m., Emigration Fire Station, 5025 E. Emigration Canyon Road

• June 15, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Bingham Lions Club, 89 Hillcrest St. (Copperton)

• June 16, 7-9 p.m., Webster Community Center, 8952 W. 2700 South

• June 21, 7-9 p.m., S.L. County Council Chambers, 2001 S. State

• June 29, 7-9 p.m., Salt Lake Christian Center, 4300 S. 700 East

County officials are looking for ways to offset the legislatively mandated elimination of the dreaded Unified Police Department fee. Raising property tax appears to be the most likely choice among limited options.

"We'll deal with the cards we have," said Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon. "Right now we have two cards in our hand and we'll use those cards to provide the services."

The county has scheduled eight public meetings in June to gather input from residents on how to play those cards. In addition to a property tax hike, the county could dip into sales tax revenue and cut police services. It can't raise sales tax because it is already at the cap allowed by state law.

"When it's all said and done, they're not going to be paying any more," said Councilman Jim Bradley.

Using volatile sales tax may be risky and taking officers off the street isn't appealing either, said County Council Chairman Max Burdick.

The police fee currently generates about $12 million annually, with the owner of a $220,000 home currently paying about $266 year. Raising property taxes would lower homeowners' out-of-pocket expense to about $218 a year, he said.

"We'll see some areas where (raising) property tax will be a better deal," Burdick said.

The Utah Legislature earlier this year prohibited local governments from charging fees for services such as police and fire protection. The county has until Dec. 31, 2012, to remove the fee, but Corroon said it intends to do it this year.

In 2009, lawmakers granted the county authority to create the Unified Police Department with the understanding it be revenue neutral. But a $13 million budget shortfall due largely to slumping sales tax revenue prompted the County Council, with Corroon's support, to organize a service district for collecting fees to fund the police department. The department covers unincorporated Salt Lake County, Herriman, Holladay and Riverton.

Residents and businesses loudly complained about the fee, some even balked at paying it.

"It is very good public policy to have a fee," Bradley said. "Unfortunately, it's very bad politics."

Email:dromboy@ksl.com

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