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County compelled to raise taxes to cover 911 emergency dispatch, loss of assessed revenue

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The Morgan County Council is prepping to raise property taxes for the first time in recent memory due, in part, to increases in cost for 911 emergency dispatch services as well as a loss in centrally assessed revenue from a major pipeline.  The council plans to approve the increase at their Dec. 5 budget hearing.  If approved, residents wouldn’t see the tax increase until property taxes are due a year from now.

“When I ran for council seven years ago, I vowed I would never raise taxes,” County Council Chairman Ned Mecham, who said he doesn’t think taxes have been raised in at least two decades.  “We have been limping along” covering the cost of increased health insurance, refinancing an annual road bond payment, and wanting more money for road maintenance, he said.

For every $1 in property taxes collected annually, about 25 cents, or a quarter, make it into Morgan County coffers.  A majority of property taxes collected, or about 67 cents per dollar, are sent to the Morgan County School District.  In order for the county to cover increased costs, they are planning to increase their portion of property taxes 22 percent, or an extra 6 cents for every $1 in property taxes collected.

The county is aiming to collect an additional $608,277, and Mecham wanted to be very specific with where that increase will be spent.  $473,277 will go to the general fun, $100,000 will go to the capital improvement fund, and $35,000 will go to the library fund.  This money will help cover the increased cost for 911 emergency dispatch services, recover the loss of centrally assessed revenue, purchase a new ambulance, help with road projects, fund capital projects, and aid with library services funding.

“Two things have killed Morgan County,” leading to the need to raise taxes, Mecham said.

Weber County, who has always provided Morgan with 911 emergency dispatch services, increased Morgan’s cost by $280,000 last year.  Morgan paid the increase last year while researching other options, such as having Davis County provide the service or funding their own.  Davis County was unwilling, and Mecham said it was impossible to fund Morgan doing their own dispatch with a price tag of between $500,000 to $800,000 annually.  So, Morgan is sticking with Weber County and building the $280,000 annual cost of dispatch services into their budget.

The other damaging blow comes from a pipeline that runs through Morgan, Rich, Summit and Salt Lake counties.  Pipelines are considered centrally assessed property and must pay property taxes.  Recently, this particular pipeline felt they were paying too much, and they took the issue up in court.  The court agreed, and now Morgan County has to pay the pipeline back to the tune of about $250,000 in a one-time payment, Mecham said.  Morgan County Treasurer Bonnie B. Thomson said the final number hasn’t been solidified yet.

An infusion of money is needed to purchase a new ambulance in the county’s aging fleet.  The three ambulances are aging; one is a 1991, another a 1998, and the newest is a 2008.  The 26-year-old ambulance will cost $204,000 to replace, Mecham said.

“The library fund is $35,000 short each year,” Mecham said.  “We have been funding that out of the general fund.”

Another problem begging for money is the county’s 1957 digs.

“The county has never collected any money to deal with facilities,” Councilman Robert Kilmer said.  “We are sitting in a (60-year-old) building that has had very little updated done to it other than cosmetic.”  He said major roof repairs are due.  “It is getting more and more expensive,” and Kilmer doesn’t want to have to approach voters for a bond.  He would rather start building up cash now so “in the future, when we need to do something for county facilities, we have money sitting and waiting.”

Councilman John Barber said the $608,277 the county may get from increasing taxes is a lot less than the $1 million contemplated during recent budget hearings.  “We cut $400,000 out of that budget,” Barber said.

Kilmer said during budget work sessions, the county council denied all increase requests, including requests for employee raises, new hires and office remodels.  The only exception was an increase of hours for the justice of the peace from 25 hours to 29 hours, even though that position in years past was a full-time job.

If the county comes out on top at year-end, some council members vowed to reduce tax rates in June.

“We may finish up the year better than we are hoping.  If our year end finishes better than we anticipate, the tax rate we set in June will be lower,” Mecham said.  “Morgan County promises you.”

What could influence that is more property taxes being collected due to new growth, or the centrally assessed payment being lower than expected.

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