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Quarter-cent sales tax option will be on Utah County ballot, despite UTA missing deadline on agreement

August 25, 2018

Utah County voters can expect a quarter-cent sales tax opinion question to appear on their ballots in November, despite Utah Transit Authority not meeting Utah County’s deadline to approve a related interlocal agreement.

On Tuesday, Utah County approved the opinion question about implementing the sales tax being sent to the ballot — which would amount to 1 penny for every $4 spent — on the condition that UTA enter an agreement that gave Utah County a say in how UTA’s portion of the revenues will be spent.

The portion of the tax that would go to UTA is estimated to be about $8.8 million annually, and would be used toward bond payments on Utah County’s bus rapid transit system, Utah Valley Express. Bond payments and operating and maintenance costs cost Utah County about $6 million per year.

The deadline for UTA to approve the agreement was Thursday at 5 p.m., which UTA was unable to meet.

UTA’s Board of Trustees met Wednesday, but there was no agenda item with the interlocal agreement. The agreement has been in the works between the two entities for months, said UTA Board of Trustees member Andrew Jackson, but has to be approved by a stakeholder subcommittee before it can come before the Board of Trustees. That particular subcommittee’s August meeting had been canceled, keeping the item from appearing on the agenda.

Jackson said UTA will continue to work on the agreement, which can go before the stakeholder subcommittee meeting in September, then appear before the Board of Trustees at the end of September for a decision.

A resolution to put the tax question on the ballot appears on the Utah County Commission’s Tuesday agenda, and two of the three commissioners say they plan to vote it through.

Commission Vice Chair Bill Lee said he had received an email from UTA indicating optimism that the interlocal agreement will be passed in September, but Lee expressed frustration at the time being lost.

Lee believes Utah County voters won’t approve the ballot initiative unless the interlocal agreement is approved, since without it the ballot measure is almost identical to Proposition 1, which Utah County voters voted down by a substantial margin in 2015.

“We are close right now even with them approving (the interlocal agreement),” Lee said. “Now we’re going to wait another month ... All we’re doing is losing time.”

Commission Chair Nathan Ivie said he plans to go ahead and put the question to the ballot in good faith, expecting UTA to follow through and pass the agreement in September.

“I’m trusting that, by the time it’s voted on, we’ll have the agreement in place,” Ivie said.

With the interlocal agreement in place, Ivie said, the tax would be completely different from Proposition 1. Though revenues would be split the same as they would have been under Proposition 1 — 40 percent to UTA, 40 percent to cities and 20 percent to Utah County — Utah County would have more say over the way the UTA money was spent.

The interlocal agreement stipulates that UTA’s portion of the tax, if implemented, would go specifically to paying off the county’s bonds taken out to pay for Utah Valley Express, or UVX.

“The only way we’re supporting (the quarter-cent sales tax) is if the agreement is in place,” Ivie said.

Commissioner Greg Graves, who voted against Tuesday’s measure to put the question on the ballot, said it’s still not an option for him to put it on the ballot.

The commissioners have a second option, which is to enact the tax without sending it first to voters. Graves said he’s not against using that option assuming a poll is done indicating people are in favor of the measure.

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