A public hearing was held in Green River on Aug. 20 to discuss a property tax increase. The city was proposing to increase its property tax revenue. The proposed tax rate would have raised the tax on a $50,000 home to $89.38 and the tax on a business to $162.50. Mayor Glen Johnson said the property tax increase would raise $100,000 for the City of Green River. The purpose of the hearing was to hear comments from Green River citizens in regards to the tax increase. Currently the property tax revenue which the city collects is $0. A tax increase would generate a revenue increase of 100 percent.
Mayor Johnson outlined the procedure for giving comments which required a trip to the microphone and stating your name for the recorder. The first citizen to speak said he is opposed to any property tax increase. He feels the property owners are singled out every time and the people who don't own any property get off scott-free. He felt a sales tax was more fair.
It was later explained that the sales tax is being collected at its maximum level set by the legislature and that type of tax was not an alternative. The mayor explained the average would be about $100 per average homeowner. Mayor Johnson explained the resort community tax which required Green River City to reduce their taxes equal to the amount which was collected on the resort community tax in its first year. The property tax was taken off at that time to meet that requirement.
One citizen wondered why a tax was needed. The mayor said they are concerned about the economy in Green River City. He said the revenue raised from the property tax would be used to install curb and gutter and build streets. "We don't have any money to do that," he said.
Councilman Tom Burr said that he receives many requests from citizens wanting curb and gutter. He said they need to prioritize the needs of the Green River citizens. If the property tax is added back on, you and I will pay some of it because the people are taxed at 55 percent of the assessed value but the businesses are taxed at 100 percent of their assessed value.
One citizen expressed concern over the exclusion of Green River from the Castle Valley Special Service District on the west end of the county. She said there are a lot of people living in Green River who are on fixed incomes and cannot afford a tax. She also mentioned railroad taxes and payments in lieu of taxes concerning the missile base. She said at one time they had said no to the district, but have said yes many times since then. Emery County has an obligation to this end of the county, she said.
One citizen mentioned that their business is down 20 percent and they have had to make cuts in employees and inventories and are against the tax. "We have a transient population that just moves in and out, we have around 600 permanent citizens and a tax of $100,000 on 600 people is just too much," the citizen said.
The next citizen to speak said that curb and gutter is nice and it is good for business. The next citizen said that the tax is too costly for young families. She thinks the property values are assessed at the same rate as properties in Salt Lake. "Let's look at something else, people would have to rob Peter to pay Paul if their taxes were increased."
Emery County Commissioner Randy Johnson came into the meeting and was asked a question about how the CVSSD works. He said it operates according to how it was set up by Utah Power, now PacifiCorp. They at one time paid 85 percent of the taxes in the county. They were the instrumental party and this was approved by the tax payers. The expansion of the CVSSD could only come with PacifiCorp approval. There is also a liabilities debt involved. Mineral lease production is down. Money not only went to the CVSSD but also to the Special Service District #1, the fire district, recreation district and the municipal building authority.
CVSSD is also funded with tax dollars and would need taxpayer approval to move down here. A royalty is paid on all mineral lease production funds. This royalty is paid to the federal government and half of that money comes back to the state which produced the mineral. Forty percent of that half is returned to the county of origin. Emery County is one of the top three counties. "We have helped fund projects all over the state with our mineral production," said Commissioner Johnson. He also mentioned the judgment levy which has been approved to be assessed to recoup the tax money which will be rebated to the centrally assessed properties to the tune of $347,000 for Emery County and $118,000 for the CVSSD. The judgment levy is a temporary one year tax to cover the cost of the appeals.
The service area the CVSSD would cover was agreed to in the original plan. "I have been working on including Green River in the CVSSD for some time and have talked to PacifiCorp regarding it. They will see how all taxpayers would benefit from it, but we are working on it," Commissioner Johnson said.
One citizen wondered how much money is collected from the railroad. Commissioner Johnson said he didn't know for sure but the amount was not substantial.
One citizen had a question about what collected taxes could be used for. Mayor Johnson explained that taxes collected from the transient room tax must be used for tourist related activities and that their portion of this tax goes to the John Wesley Powell River Museum to help with expenses. A property tax is not to be used for the operation of an enterprise fund such as water or sewer.
The next citizen said he opposed any increases. His health insurance has gone up $40 per month and he can't afford any more. He suggested they look at cutting spending in the budget. Councilman Ben Coomer said they are currently collecting all allowable taxes except for a restaurant tax which Emery County does not charge.
One citizen mentioned that in her understanding Grand County had petitioned the legislature with a request to take a portion of the transient room tax to be used for impacts which are created by tourists. She thought the legislature had approved this request.
It was noted that at the present time Emery County collects $18,000 a year in transient room tax. Green River City collects $40,000. Norma Dean Hawkinson from the travel bureau said that when Emery County is able to collect the transient room tax it will help and be good but it will not bring in millions of dollars. It will help the museums but there will not be a lot left for curb and gutter. It was pointed out that transient room tax could be used to help the museum and then the money that Green River City subsidizes the museum with could possibly be used for other things.
The next citizen was concerned about a possible zoning change he had heard might take place. He has 200 acres just out of town and was concerned about the changes and any possible tax increases. He was assured that no such zoning changes are in the works.
The next citizen spoke of the need to increase the number of visitors to Green River and the visibility of Emery County and Green River. We need to advertise Green River as a destination. Tourism is clean industry. Mayor Johnson reminded her that it takes money to advertise.
Mayor Johnson reminded everyone that the projected $100,000 of the tax increase had been projected into the budget. He went over the various department budgets and where the city stands financially. They will have to cut if the tax increase is not approved.
The next citizen had a business in Green River which she sold last year. She said she is not opposed to the tax and that the money could be used effectively on both ends of town. She mentioned the curb appeal of a business and how important it is that the businesses look good. She also said that exit 129 would be a good place for a visitor's center should the monument proposal go through.
Mayor Johnson then asked the council members if they would like to voice an opinion on the issue. Coomer said he would like to see revenue generated through business in the city. "It looks like we are headed in the direction of having a solid waste landfill here. I think we can get by without raising taxes. I am opposed to a dump coming in, but if it's going to come in then we should utilize it and do the best thing for the tax payers. I think we can get by for a year or two."
Arden Sherrill said, "I get a lot of requests for curb and gutter that we can't fill. I think as a fill in the gap measure, that it's necessary. I'll be hit as hard as anyone else."
Carol Ekker said it would hurt people with fixed incomes and to try to find another way. Doug Richards said "I am a young person just starting out and I think citizens need to take pride in their community and give a little back to make it look nice. We have some drainage problems it would be nice to fix. I'm willing to make a sacrifice to pay the tax, maybe stay and work to pay for it and not go on vacation. I have a fixed income too. In looking at the landfill, I hope it goes through. We need a solid economic base so a family can come in and not have to worry about working two jobs. The average wage of a Green River family is $20,000 a year with the mother and father both making minimum wage. It would hit everyone but maybe we could sacrifice to cover these things. If there isn't a property tax then maybe people who want curb and gutter might have to do it themselves."
It was pointed out that a lot of people rely on the city for help. Richards pointed out the need to prioritize projects for the city and one is curb and gutter. This list should be made known to the public. The public hearing was then brought to a close. The council went into a work group meeting where they voted on the proposed tax increase.
The proposal to collect property taxes of $75,000 failed with a vote of three to two. The original proposal to increase property taxes to collect $100,000 was voted down by the council by a vote of 4-1.
Mayor Johnson expressed disappointment at the outcome of the vote. He said they will have to decrease the budget by $100,000 by cutting money from department budgets. Other avenues will have to be looked at and addressed.
The city is currently subsidizing water and sewer expenses and increased user fees might be an option. The mayor expressed reservations in borrowing any money to fund projects, because of the debt service which Green River already carries because of the recently built water plant and improvements to the sewer system. He will look at submitting applications for grants to rural development agencies and the community impact board. Green River is also in need of a new fire station and Mayor Johnson said he will explore all options in getting some needed funds for the city.