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South Valley Journal

Riverton City officials are not supportive of the county’s new transportation tax

Jul 25, 2018 03:41PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Riverton City elected officials were concerned UTA received too high of a percentage in county’s new transportation tax. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected] 

When the time came to support or deny Salt Lake Council's $58 million transportation tax, the entire Riverton City Council sat in silence—perhaps surprising, given that the council had given the topic much discussion earlier on in its June 19 meeting. 

Salt Lake County officials needed the support of city councils representing at least 67 percent of the county's population to enact the tax, which county residents had previously rejected in 2015. Though other cities have approved the tax, Riverton's lack of a motion amounted to a refusal to support it.

"Voters in 2015 were able to vote on this, and 65 percent of Riverton residents said no, and I believe that we need to listen to the residents in Riverton," said Riverton Councilmember Tawnee McCay, citing just one of the many reasons she opposes the tax. 

"Our city and our state both have large budget surpluses this year,” McCay said. “Our economic prospects look great. I understand that the roads cost a lot to maintain and build, but if we have the transportation needs, then I think that we [as a city] need to prioritize those needs instead of relying so much on the state. We did increase our transportation funding by over a million dollars this year. I think that we can continue to increase that in the future." 

Councilmember Tish Buroker expressed doubts that city leaders actually would address transportation needs on its own, though, citing past city projects that have gone unfinished for years. 

"When we did our own budget, we had a nice discussion about giving about $170,000 from the general budget to the streets department to finish the lights project, which my understanding is that it's been ongoing for about seven years," said Buroker. 

The council decided not to give the project additional funds, even though those funds were available, so Buroker thinks it unlikely that they would appropriate the needed money for streets. 

"I know in my particular district there are some older streets,” she said. “I've talked to several residents who need some major road repairs, which they're never going to see, because at this present time all we have the money for is to maintain, and not to fix. Every dollar we now spend on our streets saves $7 in the next three years." Though Buroker spoke in favor of the county tax, she still made no motion to support it. 

Some Riverton officials also took exception to the way the county plans to allocate the tax revenue. 

"After July 1 of 2019, funds from the sales tax will be divided in a very specific way," said City Attorney Ryan Carter. 

Forty percent will go to UTA, 40 percent will be distributed amongst the cities, and 20 percent would go to the county. But before July 1, 2019, "There is no guarantee as to what percentage will be spent in any given category," Carter said, meaning county officials could, if they wanted, hoard all the funds from the first year for themselves, which is concerning, given it owns about 3 percent of the roads within the county. 

"I think it's rather unfortunate that this whole sales tax increase is billed, if you will, as a local roads project,” said Mayor Trent Staggs. “Cities no doubt need transportation funding—the vast majority. However, to have it pushed on cities to take 100 percent of the political heat for 40 percent of the benefit—spending a quarter to basically get a dime here—is, I think, a little bit cowardly of the county." 

McCay expressed her displeasure about the way the money has been dispersed.

"It's also just frustrating with the county that their funds have not been evenly distributed between the cities,” he said. “There's also the idea that cities that don't support this would not receive as much funding. I don't think that that's fair." 

Staggs also questions why county officials gave so much money to UTA.

"If passed to the county level, my opinion is that they're going to continue what they're doing,” Staggs said. “UTA has received $165 million from Salt Lake County alone this last year, with our city representing 4 percent of that. Do any of us really think that we have received $7 million in bus service here in our city?"