ST. GEORGE – A crowd gathered Thursday night in the St. George Arts Center Building to learn more about the proposed RAP tax initiative that county commissioners have approved for the upcoming election ballot in November.
At the meeting, which was open to residents countywide, the tax was packaged by Friends of RAP spokesperson David L. Clark as a tax that would be not only by the people and for the people, but also for future generations.
“I challenge anybody in this room to think about the taxes that you’ve all been paying and consider how many of those you have had a say in what the rate is and what it was being spent for,” Clark said. “I can’t think of a single experience in my life where there was something like that I’ve had a say in.”
Clark and several other speakers took turns talking to the audience and sharing why they felt the tax would be a benefit to the community as a whole. Clark said about two-thirds of the crowd members were brand new to Friends of RAP, which he said was exciting for him because that means the word is spreading despite the group’s inability to make a public spectacle of the issue.
Up until this point, Clark said, Friends of RAP haven’t had funding to post billboards, make posters, hang door tags or do any of the typical campaign building efforts that would usually be underway by this juncture in the game. He said they need to raise $25,000, and are currently at about 10 percent of their goal.
“We have about three weeks to pull that off, so I guess we’ll see,” Clark said. “So far we have been meeting with individual groups one at a time and trying to spread the word verbally.”
Yard signs are in the process of being made and will be available to the public soon. In the meantime, Clark said Friends of RAP will continue doing what they have done all along: talking to anyone who will listen and educating them on the benefits of the RAP tax option.
Washington County Arts Council chair Kim Konikow said this venture began seven years ago and is just now coming to fruition. She said the entire reason for putting together an arts council in Washington County in the first place was to work toward implementing an arts and recreation tax within the community.
“With the economy on a downward turn shortly after the council formed, we had to put things off for a while,” Konikow said. “It has taken this long to get this idea even up and off of the ground.”
Konikow said that while the county commissioners have approved the RAP tax to be put on the ballot during the upcoming election, they have elected to take a “non-endorsing” position. She said they were staying neutral so the people of the county could make up their own minds impartially before they vote.
The proposed tax would allocate 1/10 of 1 percent, or one penny for every $10 spent within the Washington County limits, toward a fund that would be distributed between 15 municipalities throughout the county to enhance recreational opportunities, parks and art programs.
Clark said nine of the municipalities have returned a positive response to the Interlocal Cooperation Agreement that was presented to them requesting support of a tax being placed on the Nov. 4 ballot. He said he was unsure of the status on the remaining towns and cities.
According to the Interlocal Cooperation Agreement, of the money collected for RAP Taxes, the first 15 percent would be set aside to be used countywide to enhance cultural opportunities within Washington County. The remaining 85 percent of funds would be appropriated based on a formula that considers both community populations (67 percent) and “point of sale” purchases that contribute to local economies (33 percent).
Washington County Lead Civil Attorney Eric Clarke said if the initiative is approved by the public, the county will have to create an advisory board of seven appointed members to carefully consider allocations of funding and make recommendations to the County Commission, which would then make the final decision about how to distribute county funds.
He said each municipality within the county limits would be in charge of deciding how to distribute its own portion of the 85 percent, but decisions would have to fall within previously established guidelines.
“There are very strict rules about how RAP tax monies are supposed to be spent,” Eric Clarke said. “It has to fall within the specified guidelines required by the state code, which is where we get the statutes that allow us to create such a tax in the first place.”
One concerned citizen asked David Clark what would stop elected officials from reallocating funds away from their initial purpose to fund RAP opportunities. He responded by saying that supplanting of funds is often done in political forums, but the way the RAP tax funding is established, there was no way to do that without facing serious consequences.
He said there are not only strict rules and regulations in place to keep such an occurrence from happening in the first place, but there are regular audits that hold financial custodians accountable for any misappropriation of funding.
St. George business owner Cimarron Chacon that she used to work as a construction consultant until the economy took a nosedive about eight years ago, and then she began a small business based on her hobby of cycling. She said even while the economy in Southern Utah had reached its peak of recession, tourism was still raking in the dough – and, in fact, became the largest economic driving force in Washington County and has since held that position.
Chacon said if community members take that into account, and consider that 1/3 of RAP tax funding will come from tourism, it would be impossible to not see the amazing possibilities of boosting the local economy by investing long-term in recreation.
- More information about the Washington County RAP Tax initiative is available here.
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