PROVO — The Utah County Commission decided Wednesday to delay a vote on increasing property tax rates for one week during a 4 1/2-hour meeting in the Utah County Administration Building.
The move came after hours of comments from dozens of Utah County residents who almost unanimously opposed the increase. While commissioners Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie made the case for a 69% increase, commissioner Bill Lee spoke up for a much smaller increase during commissioners’ comments at the beginning of the meeting.
Utah County has not increased its property tax rate in 23 years.
Ainge, who replaced Lee as commission chair just Tuesday with support from Ivie, said homes valued at $334,000 would see an $85 annual tax increase as a result of the measure. He accused Lee of being unrealistic in his opposition.
“The differences between my budget and his is that my budget actually balances and his does not,” Ainge said. “Mine is reliable and his is misleading.”
Ainge said that the county tax rate has decreased 72% since 1986, collecting the same amount of money even as property values increased. But because of Utah’s Truth in Taxation laws, which require public hearings for any tax rate increases, Utah County went years without adjusting the rate for inflation.
The Utah Taxpayers Association released a statement on Dec. 2 saying it agrees the county needs a property tax increase, but not as large as the budget was requesting.
But Lee said his blanket hesitation to increase taxes better reflects the will of the county. “At the start of the budget process, I was accused by a fellow commissioner of being against property tax increases before the number was even proposed,” Lee said.
“That is 100% correct.”
Lee said the increase “mocks the fiscal conservative principles that have made this valley such a great place to live and raise our families,” though he said a small one might be necessary in this case.
Lee’s remarks drew loud applause from the assembled citizens several times. After the three commissioners had spoken, with Ainge providing a slideshow presentation in support of the increase, residents lined up to comment on the proposal.
Several speakers — some visibly angry or emotional — said a vote for the increase would harm the commissioners at the ballot box. “If you decide to vote for this tonight, we vote you out next election,” said Provo’s Brad Wall.
“Mr. Ainge and Mr. Ivie, you may become a one-term commissioner!” another commenter shouted.
Many commenters were retirees who said their fixed incomes made the increase untenable. A few said they understood the difficult fiscal position the commissioners inherited, but that the size of the increase they asked for was unacceptably high.
Other commenters urged the commissioners to postpone the vote and not decide Wednesday evening.
At the conclusion of about 2 1/2 hours of public comment, the commissioners made final statements. “On a pure principal basis, I agree with you that property tax is an immoral tax,” Ivie said. But he argued that property tax was the county’s only avenue to raise revenues.
Lee admitted that he and the other commissioners have “a trust issue that has developed that is problematic” but believed they could reach a compromise. When Ainge brought the tax increase to a vote, Lee moved to postpone it for a week.
The commissioners then spent about an hour talking through line items to find points of consensus to work through until next Tuesday.
The commissioners will reconvene at the same location on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 9 a.m.