ST. GEORGE — For a second year in a row, the Washington County Water Conservancy District has proposed a property tax increase to help pay for capital projects and rising inflation.
It’s something that’s only happened four times in the nearly 40 years that Ron Thompson has been the district's executive director.
“I think there’ll be a slight increase each year over the next 20 years,” he said, referring to how Washington County currently charges just over half of its maximum allowable tax rate.
Though Thompson believes higher taxes will become the new normal, the water district only proposes property tax rates. The state tax commission sets them.
Before the water district can send any proposed tax hike to the state, its board must vote on the proposal in a public meeting. That’s because of Utah’s “Truth In Taxation” law.
Passed in 1985, the law stipulates that local governments must notify the public any time officials want to increase the revenue collected from property taxes. Otherwise, the amount of property tax revenue a county can collect each year is capped.
As a result, property tax rates automatically decrease year after year due to inflation, rising property values and growth. That’s why property tax rates must be updated, said Karry Rathje, the district’s spokeswoman.
The change the district is proposing this year is less than a hundredth of a percent and is projected to generate $329,000 for infrastructure projects, such as the Lake Powell Pipeline, and to keep up with inflation.
Conserve Southwest Utah, a local environmental and cultural conservation group, says the water district doesn't need to generate more revenue.
“We suspect that the increase would not be required if it were not for the down payment that is necessary to get the state to fund the Lake Powell Pipeline,” said Tom Butine, board president of Conserve Southwest Utah.
Instead, he said, the district should increase usage rates rather than property taxes to generate revenue because it creates an incentive for customers to use less water.
Thompson says the difference will amount to about $7 per household next year.
“All I know is that it’s less than if I go to the movies and buy my grandkid popcorn and a drink,” he said. “So, it’s not a lot of money.”
The conservancy district’s board will vote on its proposed tax rate increase at 6 p.m. Wednesday during a public meeting at the district office.
David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.