- Associated Press - Sunday, July 16, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah cities are quietly balancing their budgets by raising fees on electricity, water and other services instead of raising property taxes, a politically difficult process that requires elected officials to host public hearings.

Sandy has taken about $1.2 million raised from water sales and placed it in general funds to balance the budget every year since 2011, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/2unTSJK) Tuesday. Provo and Lindon officials have made similar moves over the years.

Some residents and legislators argue that the process isn’t transparent and should be curbed. In Sandy, resident Mark Randall said Mayor Tom Dolan and other officials have bragged about longs run without tax hikes.

“He’s not raising property taxes, he’s just fee-ing us to death,” said Randall, who hopes for more scrutiny of the issue. “If he said he’s going to raise property taxes, he’d have to have a truth-in-taxation hearing, and it would pack City Council chambers.”

But officials insist that using funds raised by fees is an easier, cheaper way to balance budgets and ensures that tax-exempt organizations such as churches pay their share of the cost of government.

Republican Rep. Jefferson Moss of Saratoga Springs and Sen. Howard Stephenson of Draper attempted to draft a bill to end the practice, but they had to scale it back after it was met with intense opposition.

“I was told by the League of Cities and Towns this was the most controversial bill in 30 years,” Moss said. “I will tell you it was WWIII with the cities.”

The bill was changed to continue allowing the use of funds raised by fees as long as cities send out notices and hold public hearings regarding each transfer.

“Now it’s going to be in the hands of the residents,” Moss said. “I’d rather have it come from (them) than us micromanaging.”

Moss said he hopes that with that change, residents will be able to chime in and let officials know whether they think a tax increase or belt tightening would be a more beneficial way to balance the budget.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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