The Morgan County Council voted unanimously this week to increase property tax revenue by over 28 percent. For a homeowner with a residence valued at $347,000, that will mean a $113.39 increase while a business with the same value would see an increase of $206.15 effective for 2018’s property taxes.
This increase will generate about half a million new dollars for the county including $473,277 for the general fund, $100,000 for capital improvements and $35,000 for the library.
The purpose for the increase includes purchasing a new ambulance, funding 911 emergency dispatch services, recovering the loss of centrally assessed revenue, repairing roads, and funding capital projects and library services.
The new money will be a much-needed shot in the arm for the $8.4 million county budget, said council members.
“Morgan County is short, so we either cut services or get the money from somewhere,” Council Chairman Ned Mecham said. He noted that it has been two to three decades since the county raised its portion of property taxes.
And Councilman Austin Turner said that was too long.
“The reality is, in my five years on the council, the biggest mistake is we should have done truth in taxation every year. We have always reduced your rate, and your values have been going up. We have not been responsible doing slight increases all along. We have been stinging along our budget and finally it caught up to us,” Turner said. “If I would have understood better, I would have raised taxes a little every year instead of being caught behind the eight ball.”
In those years, the county has absorbed jumps in employee health insurance, sometimes as high as $50,000 in one year, without seeking any tax payer dollars to cover cost of living increases, 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 turning to tax payers to help fund the ongoing expense.
Mecham said the $189,000 the county has to pay back to SLC Pipeline by Dec. 15 ate into the county budget significantly and unexpectedly following the pipeline’s recent successful lawsuit. Other taxing entities in the county will likewise have to pay SLC Pipeline back after the company successfully asked for a re-evaluation of their property tax valuation.
Turner said that in the past, the county has been able to secure grants to pay for new ambulances. Those sources have since dried up while Morgan’s ambulance fleet continues to age. The fleet includes vehicles more than 20 years old. “If you need an ambulance, you hope it’s not the 1994 ambulance,” Mecham said.
“I am shocked at the fleet,” said Councilman John Barber, who formerly ran a Ford dealership in the county, noting some vehicles in the road department have well over 200,000 miles on them. “We have to take care of the aging fleet and try to be responsible. We can’t keep ignoring it.”
Councilwoman Tina Cannon noted that the county has been withdrawing money from the “rainy day” fund for three years just to keep their budget afloat. “There is only so many years you can do that,” she said.
Turner noted that Morgan’s recent change in classification, based on an increase in population, is also to blame for the need to raise taxes. In 2016, the Lt. Governor’s office informed the county that it is now a fourth class county instead of a fifth class county. The state’s 29 counties are split into six classification. When legislation is passed, counties are treated differently based on classification, whether it be more stringent regulations or additional economic resources.
While the council hesitantly but unanimously raised taxes Tuesday, Mecham said that property values are on the increase, which could lead to a reduction in tax rates in June of 2018. If property is worth more, the county could set a lower rate to collect the same revenue in the future.
“Our hope is our (property tax) dollars come back higher than projected,” Mecham said.
Five residents addressed the council during the public portion of the public hearing, a few asking if patron usage justified an increase in the library’s budget. Councilman Robert Kilmer was not in attendance.