The Morgan County Council will move forward with a request to annex into the Utah Transit Authority’s service area, but not because all council members want the service or approve of raising taxes. Instead, council members want the public to weigh in on the matter officially by visiting the ballot box.
“It appears the citizenry are interested in us moving forward,” Councilman Lyle Nelson said. “I know there are dissenting votes, and very loud opinions about additional taxes. I understand that. But we seem to have a number of people in the community saying we ought to go forward.”
Nelson said that while one May meeting exploring UTA’s proposal was not well attended, a second meeting that was advertised in the newspaper had more attendees and gathered mostly positive input.
However, input from those two meetings wasn’t enough, Councilman Robert Kilmer said.
“We did not get a large enough sampling. People are not showing up to meetings. We don’t have a good reading of what the public wants,” Kilmer said. “We need to let the voters make the decision.”
Councilmen Logan Wilde and Ned Mecham, both of whom voted against putting the measure on the ballot, said they had received many calls from constituents opposed to UTA services. Kilmer agreed, but added that the same people who voiced opposition to UTA also supported raising taxes to maintain roads.
Voters would be considering a quarter to half of one cent tax increase, which would not apply to food or gas. Consumers already pay such taxes when shopping in Weber and Davis counties. This would mean that for every $4 spent, one cent in new taxes would be collected.
If voters approve a half of one cent tax increase, half of that could go to fixing and maintain roads in the county, Nelson said.
“We could have that go for roads, which to me is a big boon for this county,” Nelson said. “The roads are in atrocious shape.”
“If this is going to help us get more money to work on roads, I have a hard time passing it up,” said Councilman Austin Turner.
Some council members said fixing county roads could be a selling point for voters, but others said they are not going to get on the vote-selling bandwagon.
“I am not a fan of selling things. I am a fan of giving all the information we can on all sides and letting people decide. I can support sending something to the taxpayers to make a decision on without supporting the tax increase myself,” Kilmer said. “I am not saying this is the direction we should go. But I do not think the council should be making decisions without voter approval. I am looking for what the majority of the county wants. I want them to come to the ballot to make a decision. Let the public go out and do the campaigning. We (the council) are a nonbiased party to sit back and wait for what the county (voters) want us to do. They do the battle and we sit and wait for the outcome.”
However, the council should be aware of public perception of the council’s move to put it on the ballot, said Jann Farris, Morgan County attorney.
“If you put it on the ballot, you are endorsing a tax increase for Morgan,” Farris said. “You are saying it is worth this tax.”
“What I saw with the school district (attempt to pass a levy) is they went out to sell it so vigorously, that the people opposed it that vigorously,” Councilwoman Tina Kelley said.
Nelson said he wishes to support the measure in an effort to support the aged, veteran and handicapped population in the county.
“This is a third of the population in rough numbers,” Nelson said. “That is huge. I don’t think we ought to ignore those people. They are looking for options to get the services they need. We need to be aware of that segment of the county population.”
UTA will now conduct a formal investigation and hold two more open house meetings, during which a quorum of their board must be present. Only after voters approve of the move could Morgan County officially sign an agreement with UTA.
Wilde said that UTA “has a perception problem with the public that is hard to overcome” and that if the services are needed, he would rather the county conduct the service themselves.
“If at the end of the year a person governed by UTA in this office gets a bonus, we don’t have a say in that,” Wilde said. “But it will reflect back on this council. We will be called on the carpet on that. I am not sure entering into UTA is the best decision. I don’t see it fitting into the county. I feel it is a hard sale to go through UTA.”
Mecham noted that 22 counties in the state don’t have UTA, and many of those counties have a larger population than Morgan.
Kelley said that before exploring possibilities with UTA, the council agreed that they did not want to go into the business of maintaining a fleet of public transportation vehicles.