Hooper energy tax, expected to generate $510K a year, spurs backlash from some
Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner
HOOPER — Hooper residents will soon see a new charge on their electricity and natural gas bills in response to local leaders’ moves to bolster revenue entering city coffers.
It’s got some people shaking their heads, upset over the prospect of paying more taxes and unhappy with how city leaders pursued implementation of the energy tax, approved with little public forewarning, they charge. “I have not talked to one single person within the city who is happy about this,” said Rosemary England, a Hooper resident.
But Mayor Dale Fowers says the city has typically had to scale back spending from year to year — on things like road repairs and stormwater drain projects — due to limited funds. The new tax, expected to generate perhaps $510,000 a year, will allow officials to do more in the western Weber County city of some 9,300, he hopes.
“I hope we can begin to help the citizens who live here,” he said. “I think for the most part, the people realize the city needs to have some money to operate.”
Starting in October, Hooper customers of Rocky Mountain Power and Dominion Energy, electricity and natural gas providers, will be assessed a 6% sales tax on their energy consumption. As allowed under state law, the Hooper City Council approved implementation of the Municipal Energy Sales and Use Tax, as it’s known, last May in a 4-1 vote.
Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner
The new energy tax funding will help bolster tax revenue coming from a range of sources for general fund expenses for fiscal year 2023-2024 in Hooper to $2.67 million, according to the year’s spending plan. That’s up 42.3% from $1.87 million in varied tax collections for 2022-2023.
In defending the change, Hooper officials noted that most Weber County locales already assess the tax, charged through utility bills with the money then passed on to the communities by utility companies. In fact, of the 17 locales and other entities in Weber County that can assess it, 14 of them do, all of them at the full 6% rate with the exception of South Ogden, which assesses a 5% rate.
“I had never heard of the energy tax and didn’t know about it,” Fowers said.
Following the Hooper City Council decision, the only Weber County locales that don’t assess the energy tax are Huntsville, Marriott-Slaterville and West Haven, according to data provided by the Utah State Tax Commission. Statewide, 171 of 282 cities, towns and other entities assess the tax, all but 25 of them at the full 6% rate.
Aside from the fact that most entities assess the tax, Fowers takes comfort knowing that power company users have a measure of control, via conservation, over how much they have to pay in taxes. The tax is “based on consumption. That was a real positive thing,” Fowers said.
Significantly, implementing the energy tax is a way to head of property tax increases, Fowers said. As is, Hooper only assesses property taxes to cover parks and cemetery operations. “This is a way to avoid a property tax for the next few years,” said Fowers, especially in light of the limited commercial development in the city, which keeps sales tax revenue to a minimum.
Whatever the case, some bristle at the turn of events.
Sheri Bingham, a Hooper mayoral candidate in elections this year, questions the need for the money. Officials haven’t specified exactly how the new revenue is to be spent, aside from helping cover the cost of raises for city workers.
“All of us have to live within our budget, and I believe that Hooper City should have to manage the taxpayers’ money. They need to be fiscally responsible. We have not heard a definite use of the money,” she said. With Fowers vying this cycle for a seat on the Hooper City Council, Bingham is facing off against Greg Simpson for the mayor’s post.
Countering Fowers’ contention that energy users can minimize their energy use to head off big tax increases, England notes that some actually don’t have a lot of wiggle room.
“So are the elderly citizens supposed to freeze to death in the winter or get heat stroke in the summer?” she said. In her case, she’s expecting a $24 jump per month in her utility bills owing to the tax, but add that to property increases approved by other entities for 2023-2024, including the Weber School District, and it starts adding up.
Ryan Hill, the sole Hooper City Council member who voted no for the new tax, thinks that a property tax increase might have been a better way to go, however distasteful the notion, because it would apply to all property owners. He brought the idea up as the energy tax was debated, but got no support.
He also proposed a smaller energy tax, say 3% instead of 6%, but also got no takers. “Nobody wanted to listen to that idea. They went for 6%. They went for the maximum,” said Hill, one of four candidates along with Fowers, Cindy Cox and Kamie Hubbard for two at-large City Council seats.
Beyond particulars of the tax and its financial impact, England and Bingham don’t think city leaders did enough to get word out about the proposal before they acted, didn’t allow enough public debate on the issue. “They could have sent out a flier with information and a comment period, but they didn’t,” England said.
With the tax now in place, though, Hill wants to see how things go, see how it impacts the city budget, at least for the next three to six months.
Simpson, vying for the Hooper mayoral seat along with Bingham, offers mixed sentiments. He’s no fan of taxes, he said, but money is needed to keep cities and other governmental entities running. Moreover, Hooper is in a tough spot having limited commercial entities that can serve to generate sales tax revenue for the locale.
Taxes may be distasteful, Simpson said, “but we live in a nation that has to run.”