PROVO — Utah County commissioners were in the hot seat Wednesday as residents grilled them on a proposal to double county property taxes in 2020.
Property owners received a notice in the mail that the proposal would increase the county portion of their property taxes, currently 6.2% in Utah County, by 100% next year in order to help balance the budget.
“I understand … that’s alarming,” County Commission Chair Bill Lee said. “That’s going to make anyone look at it and think, ‘What in the world is going on here?’”
The notice has led to hundreds of phone calls and emails to county officials and drew a large crowd to a town hall Wednesday night, where county officials took a dive into the county budget and pointed out other proposed budget cuts.
“Part of the question and part of the problem is, is that the value of the dollar goes down,” Lee said. “So we have that gap. And so there has to be some sort of adjustments here and there to make that work, or else, you’re not going to make up that difference.”
Residents came prepared with questions, comments and concerns, but many were disappointed to figure out they wouldn’t be able to speak until the end.
“It’s a free country buddy! We’re going to say what we want to say,” one man yelled to another after he called out those who were going after the commissioners.
The county says it currently has a deficit of about $10 million.
“I am incredibly frustrated by our fiscal position,” Commission Vice Chair Tanner Ainge told the audience. “I’ve been looking for cuts to this budget.”
Lee made it clear they are looking at all options, including getting the county back into a contract with ICE, which it ended in 2016, and no longer funding capital punishment cases, which cost an estimated $1 million annually for the county.
After two hours of hearing from commissioners and a few questions from the audience, residents and business owners were anxious to give their input.
“Can we get a chance to speak as citizens,” one woman cried out. She was given time to speak and expressed frustration with the proposal. She argued the county should have plenty of revenue because of the rapid growth in areas like Lehi, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain.
“New growth is usually only captured in the first year,” Lee said. “The tax rate floats. It floats back and forth on the assessed values … It was, by the state legislature, designed so it can become a stable revenue source. It’s not affected by sales taxes. It has caps on it. It has parameters around it so we can actually budget to a number that is constant and consistent.”
Wednesday’s meeting lasted more than 3.5 hours. In addition to the full county building rooms where it was held, nearly 3,000 others viewed a part or all of it on the county’s Facebook page.
“I would think this is a sample of what’s to come,” Lee said, looking ahead to a public hearing scheduled on Dec. 11 at 6 p.m at the Utah County Administration Building. That’s also the earliest date Lee said the commission could vote on the proposed tax increase.