Alta girds to raise max tax levy almost a dollar/thousand

Friday, January 24, 2020

Faced with increasing requests for funding and worries over aging infrastructure, the Alta City Council reluctantly agreed this week to look at a substantial property tax increase.

The city is currently at its maximum levy asking of $8.10 per thousand of valuation plus the allowable employee benefits levy, totaling $10.59.

However, the city also qualifies to apply levies for operating a community building, to cover self-insurance costs and for an emergency fund. If all those levies are applied at maximum level, the city levy would expand to $11.51, or nearly a dollar per thousand above the present asking. That would bring in about $66,000 more for the city in a year - or about the extra amount of requests being made from its departments and outside agencies.

The council will host a public hearing on February 3 before voting on a maximum levy. City officials note that the figure is a maximum, and the council could later opt for less.

However, action to approve the change would take a supermajority - four out of five council members approving. One member, Wes Bunjes, has already indicated that he is against the proposal.

Mayor Kevin Walsh also expressed some concern with seeking the full maximum, noting that most homeowners have already faced a recent increase in assessed valuations - the city has not seen the effect of that revenue yet.

Compared to other area communities, Alta tax asking is low, city officials said, and even with the maximum increase would be below the average of about $14.19 per thousand, and a high of $22 in Laurens, where a water plant was recently funded.

There is no other option for Alta to bring in more funding to begin setting aside for major future infrastructure projects other than borrowing money, which would also result in higher taxes, City clerk Megan Peterson told the council. “There is no free money,” she said.

It was noted that a levy increase would not apply to the full assessed value of property, but to the remaining 55 percent of valuation after the rollback. The city asking would also make up only a portion of the property tax bill, as such factors as county and school levies also apply.

The council has not received negative feedback on levy increases in recent previous years, but a $1 increase would be bigger than those changes. Peterson warned council members that they may hear some ire from the community. “We’re just telling them this is the most we could raise it,” Peterson said of the proposed increase in maximum asking. “If there is a lot of feedback, you can cut some things to bring it back down.”

“I’m totally against raising taxes, but we really don’t have a choice,” newly-elected council member Les Mann said. “It’s down to the point where we have to get some revenue somewhere.”