OGDEN — A slight dip in taxes could be in the offing next year for many in Weber County — but not everybody.
Weber County commissioners are leaning toward a tax shift for 2020 that would slightly reduce general fund property tax collections by $500,000 across the county. However, the amount paid by property owners in the county’s unincorporated zones, where around 6% of county residents live, could be headed up, by about $364,000 in all, or, on a home valued at $280,000, by around $20 a year.
The aim, officials said in unveiling the plans on Tuesday, is to make sure property tax revenue coming from unincorporated areas is sufficient to cover the cost of the services actually provided. As is, funding from county taxpayers living in Weber County’s 15 cities and towns helps cover the cost of services provided in unincorporated areas, which Commissioner Gage Froerer, for one, decried as unfair.
If a person or business receives a county government service “they should pay for that service, and I shouldn’t be subsidized by somebody else,” he said. The proposed change, he continued, “goes above just a shift. This goes to the heart of what I truly believe we as taxpayers deserve, which is equitable treatment under the law.”
Per the change, part of 2020 budget deliberations, the county would lower the amount of property tax revenue it needs for the general fund, the largest single pot of funding, by around $500,000. Tax revenue from property owners across the county goes into the general fund.
At the same time, the county would increase the amount of property tax revenue generated within its municipal services fund, money that’s earmarked for services in unincorporated areas, by $364,000. Only tax revenue from property owners in unincorporated areas — most of eastern and northwestern Weber County — goes into the municipal services fund.
“It’s not like we need more money. We need more money in municipal services,” said Commissioner Scott Jenkins.
The proposed change actually reduces property tax funds entering county coffers by $136,000, the difference between the general fund cut and the municipal fund services increase. Even so, because of the potential impact to those in unincorporated areas, it will be the focus of planned open houses on Nov. 12 and 18 and a formal public hearing on Nov. 26.
The proposed $364,000 municipal services fund increase reflects a doubling of property tax revenue in that line item and, likewise, would double the taxes homeowners and business owners in unincorporated areas have to pay. The tax on a home valued at $280,000, for instance would go from $20.33 per year to $40.66, according to county estimates, while the tax on a business of the same value would go from $36.96 to $73.92.
The shift would increase the overall amount of money in the municipal services fund for 2020 to around $3.4 million, up from the 2019 figure of around $3 million, according to Scott Parke. Sales tax funds make up the lion’s share of municipal services fund money.
The $500,000 general fund cut could reduce the county property taxes property owners must pay in the county’s 15 cities and towns, but Jenkins said the reduction wouldn’t likely be a lot. Estimated general fund property tax revenue for 2019 totals $31.86 million and $500,000 represents just 1.6% of that sum.
‘PAY THEIR OWN WAY’
The change is being driven by state law, which dictates that government services in a given zone must be covered by property tax revenue generated within that area, said Scott Parke, comptroller for Weber County. “Everybody has to pay their own way,” he said.
The legislation dates to 2013 and since then, county officials have been more closely monitoring where exactly county funding is being spent. With improvements in the tracking, officials more clearly realize how much in general fund revenue is required to subsidize operations in unincorporated areas, which spurred the planned changes for 2020.
The unincorporated area “has to balance its budget like a city has to balance its budget,” Jenkins said. Road maintenance and law enforcement services provided by the Weber County Sheriff’s Office account for the bulk of county spending in unincorporated areas.
The $364,000 tax increase may not actually be sufficient to cover the costs of all services in unincorporated areas, according to Jenkins. But he said he and the other commissioners couldn’t stomach the notion of an even bigger increase.
Officials will keep tabs on spending and how the proposed tax shift impacts funding of services in unincorporated areas. “But I suspect we’ll be back in a year or two,” Jenkins said, to take another look at the issue.
Feedback he’s received at this early stage from the public has been generally understanding, Jenkins said. There may be some initial shock and apprehension, he said, “but when they understand the circumstances and the good deal they have they say, ‘Oh, OK.’”
The $40.66 the owner of a $280,000 home would pay in municipal service fund property taxes is still lower than the municipal property taxes paid in 13 of Weber County’s cities. The figure compares to the $442.90 an Ogden homeowner would pay, at the top of the list, and, on the low side, the $55.59 a Plain City homeowner would pay. Marriott-Slaterville and West Haven don’t assess city property taxes.
Residents in unincorporated areas of western Weber County are mulling incorporation, turning the vast area west of Plain City, Marriott-Slaterville and West Haven into a city. The level of property taxes they currently pay and would potentially have to pay if the area becomes a city figure in the ongoing debate there.
The Nov. 12 open house will be at the Ogden Valley Branch library, 131 S. 7400 East in Huntsville. The Nov. 18 open house will be at Plain City Hall, 4160 W. 2200 North. The Nov. 26 public hearing will be at county commission chambers at the Weber Center, 2380 Washington Blvd. in Ogden. All three meetings start at 6 p.m.