ST. GEORGE — Following a public hearing Wednesday evening, the Washington County Water Conservancy District voted to approve a property tax increase for 2020 that would bring an additional $750,000 in revenue.
The water district approved a 0.000042 increase in property taxes, which is the same amount water officials adopted last year, General Manager Ron Thompson said during his presentation.
In 2019, the district’s current certified rate was 0.000590, and the approved increase now sets the rate at 0.000632. The Utah State Legislature placed a rate maximum of .001. The district does not need to hold a public vote to approve the property tax increase because the proposal did not exceed the state’s maximum.
Previous to Wednesday’s decision, the district had only approved three tax rate increases: 1989, 2005 and 2018. This year’s increase was originally proposed in November, at which point it was estimated to generate approximately $750,000 of additional annual revenue.
The water district receives revenue primarily through three sources — impact fees, property taxes and water sales. Property taxes make up 10% of the funds, while 15% comes from water rates and 75% comes from impact fees. In November, Thompson said the district sees this funding model as an equitable way to help cover the cost of future projects.
The new rate is expected to generate an additional 7.09% of revenue in the 2020 budget when compared to last year’s budget. With its approval, the proposal will add $7.57 for a home valued at $329,000 each year. The water district’s portion of the county property tax for such a home would go up from $106.76 to $114.33. A business valued at the same rate will see a projected increase of $13.77, from $194.11 to $207.88.
The additional revenue will be allocated to water projects such as the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Sand Hollow Water Treatment Plant. These projects are estimated to cost a combined total of over $1.6 billion. Funds are also applied to programs related to drought control, endangered species protection, water conservation, public safety applications, water shed protection and water quality testing, among others.
During Wednesday’s public hearing, residents from all over Washington County met at the water conservancy district’s office in St. George to weigh in on the proposal. Lisa Rutherford, an Ivins resident and board member of Conserve Southwest Utah, shared her concerns with the increase in property taxes.
“For years local and state representatives have reminded us that others paid for water projects for us, and we now must pay for water projects – like the Lake Powell Pipeline – for those who follow us with property taxes as a part of that mix,” she said. “What are the implications of that expectation?”
When property taxes and the goods and services they fund are not properly aligned, employing property taxes will reduce the value of existing properties, Rutherford argued.
Seth Stinson, a veteran who has run for Washington County Commission in previous years, approached the board with a plastic bag in hand, sitting across from chairman Ed Bowler as he pulled out a dish and a number of items in his breast pocket. One by one, he placed the items into the dish, naming off a number of state and federal taxes residents are expected to pay.
“What we’re likely to do,” Stinson said, pulling out a canister of whipped cream, “is say ‘It’s just a little tax.’ It doesn’t matter how much whipped cream I put on the tax, it’s still a tax. Quite frankly, I’m sick to death of taxes and, you gentlemen sitting here, increasing my taxes year-to-year.”
He said he served in the United State Armed Forces to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution, he argued, states residents should have a say in what taxes are levied against them, but he doesn’t believe he and his fellow residents have had a chance to do that.
“I’m an old man, so I’ve had a lot of time to study the Constitution and the founding of this country,” he said, reaching back into his bag. “It seems that King George decided that he was going to add a tax on tea. You could avoid that tax, but you can’t avoid the tax that you folks are going to do for us. It’s not voluntary, it’s compulsory.”
Stinson pulled out a box of tea bags, holding it up to the board members and adding, “I want you to remember the Boston Tea Party. It was launched over a 1% voluntary tax on tea that you didn’t have to buy. There are other ways to raise funds if you need them.”
St. George Mayor Jon Pike made the motion to approve the proposal after the closing of the public hearing. Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson addressed the room before the role call vote.
“This is pretty tough,” Iverson said. “I appreciate what’s been said, I just want to acknowledge it. While I do plan to vote for the motion, I think as a board we need to always remember that it’s not just this small increase, it’s added in with all the other taxes. We have to be sensitive to that, but there’s not infrastructure more important in our area than water.”
Other members of the board echoed Iverson’s sentiment before Bowler asked for a role call vote. The property tax increase passed unanimously.
The next meeting is scheduled to take place on Jan. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Washington County Conservancy District building, 533 E. Waterworks Drive, St. George.
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