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South Jordan Asks Salt Lake County to Put Tax Hike on Ballot in November

Aug 10, 2015 10:21AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

The new county tax proposal calls for spending not just on roads and public transit, but also on “active transportation,” including bicycle lanes and amenities as well as pedestrian-friendly projects.

By James Luke 

Joining dozens of other cities within the county, the South Jordan City Council voted in favor of a resolution requesting that Salt Lake County put a .025 percent sales tax increase on the ballot in the November 2015 election. The request arises as a result of HB 362, passed by the Utah Legislature in March 2015 and signed into law by Governor Herbert. One part of the law is designed to allow voters to approve the sales tax, with the money to be allocated for transportation uses and divided between cities, counties and public transit agencies. 

The resolution passed the city council by a 3-0 vote (Councilmembers Steve Barnes and Chris Rogers were absent) at the June 16 regular meeting. The request from South Jordan joins similar requests from cities throughout the county, including Salt Lake City, for the county to put the tax proposal on the ballot this fall. 

The next step lies with the county council, which is responsible for the decision of whether or not to put the sales tax increase on the ballot in the November 2015 election. Some 70 representatives of cities and municipalities turned up for county council meetings when the issue was recently on the agenda, according to the Utah League of Cities and Towns. 

Only Grant County has confirmed that they will put the HB 362 tax question before the voters this fall in the 2015 election. The ULCT says that every other county in the state is considering the issue. Counties must decide by late August whether they will put the issue on the ballot, so as to allow the elections officials to prepare materials and receive statements from opponents for the ballot materials.

South Jordan resident Paul Bateman, a candidate for city council in District Two, noted at the city council meeting that “expected voter turnout is lower in the odd year election” scheduled for this fall. He expressed his opinion that “residents are taxed enough, and an increased tax of any kind is inappropriate until UDOT and UTA” assure voters that they are wisely and responsibly using the taxpayer money that they already receive. 

Groups such as Cycling Utah have been active supporters of HB 362 and the local option tax, in part because the legislation specifically provides that money collected from the sales tax can support “active transportation” facilities and projects. Active transportation facilities allowed for in the law include bicycle and pedestrian elements either as part of other transportation development or as independent projects. Trail maintenance, linkages and upgrades, new bike lanes and other investments in active transportation are all approved uses of the funds to be generated, if the tax is approved by the voters.

Local governments such as South Jordan appreciate the flexibility allowed by the tax provision, in that the funds derived from the tax are to be split three ways, between the county, the transit agency (UTA) and the cities. Councilman Chuck Newton expressed the urgent need for local and county transportation funds. He listed some projects that are at the top of the list for additions and improvements, such as the Mountain View Corridor and Bangerter Highway.

Mayor David Alvord expressed his concerns that this has been a surplus year in the state budget, and that new taxes are unwelcome for many voters who feel that there is adequate money available for needs of transportation and public transit. The city’s state legislative lobbyist, Dave Spatafore, who was at the city council session in June to answer questions about HB 362, explained that the state is forbidden by law from doing vertical revenue sharing of state tax dollars. In other words, he said, the state can’t pass surplus transportation funds down to local municipalities because it is unconstitutional.

Councilman Don Shelton noted his view that “there is a time when it is fiscally responsible to raise taxes,” and that the city’s request to the county to put the sales and use tax on the ballot represents just such an occasion. Agreeing with Councilman Newton about the urgent need for local transportation project funds, he said that he has felt that HB 362 is an important thing for the city from early on. 

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