Commission hears pros/cons of RAP Tax; tourist contributions/infinite, expensive

Washington County resident Thomas Henry was asked to have a seat by the commissioners after taking longer than the allotted two minutes to express his opposition to Proposition 3. They later invited him to finish speaking after everyone else in the room had their two minutes at the podium. Photo taken by St. George News reporter, Carin Miller.

ST. GEORGE – Citizens of Washington County gathered Tuesday night to voice their opinions during a special public hearing about the addition of the Proposition 3 RAP tax initiative that was recently approved for Nov. 4 election.

The proposed RAP tax initiative is a specialized tax of one-tenth of one percent, or one penny for each $10, spent on nonfood purchases within the Washington County boundary to help fund recreation, arts and parks within the county’s borders.

With the exception of a few cautionary voices in the room, the small crowd of 24 who took the time to attend the meeting largely spoke out in favor of the RAP tax, citing the many opportunities both residents and tourists would reap should the initiative pass.

At the start of the meeting, commissioners established each speaker would receive two minutes on the floor to express their perspective, and requested residents work to avoid repetition.

“So long as we have fresh point of view, then we can keep going,” one commissioner said.

Tourist contributions

Washington County Administrator Dean Cox pointed out to the audience that an estimated one-third of the tax revenue reaped would come from the travel expenses tourists contribute, allowing them to participate in maintaining the infrastructure that they use during their stay.

“Washington County is a very popular destination and we have a lot of visitors who come and enjoy our climate, the people, the scenery, the landscape and all that we have to offer,” he said. “It enables these visitors from out of the area to help participate in the infrastructure costs of having the amenities that bring them here.”

Soccer

Resident Kyle Pasley, a Washington County soccer coach, said the soccer program has grown exponentially since 2004 wearing heavily on the existing fields where children from all over Southern Utah come to play.

Ten years ago there were about 300 children who played the sport recreationally and only 12 competitive teams, Pasley said. Today, however, there are over 100 competitive soccer teams and between 1,600 and 1,800 kids who play in private organizations between Cedar City and Mesquite, Nevada, “comprising over 3,500 kids in Southern Utah who play soccer.”

Pasley cited three additional tournament events that bring soccer players to Washington County from out of town to compete, boosting the economy, but further degrading infrastructure as the traffic increases.

Skepticism from an artist

Not everyone who attended Tuesday night was ready to jump on the fast track to adopting the proposed initiative. Resident Bill Ennis, Southern Utah artist and business owner, said he believed he would benefit from the passing of such a tax, but that he didn’t feel as though the language in the proposal was clear enough to even have the initiative on the ballot this election.

Ennis asked the commission, and the public, to explain where “the vast gaping holes in arts and recreation” were that would even suggest a RAP tax was needed in Washington County in the first place.

“The language of the tax proposal is too ambiguous for me,” Ennis said. “My viewpoint is, as a business owner, I wouldn’t charge a fee if I didn’t know what that fee was covering for my customer.”

If taxes were to be raised, Ennis said that attaching it to a consumption tax would be the only ethical way to implement them. He said his concern was less about the idea that the proposal was in play, but more that the idea isn’t refined enough to move forward at this time. In his research about Proposition 3, Ennis said, he came across a statement that concerned him immensely.

“He writes in his rebuttal in favor of the tax increase ‘the possibilities are endless,’ and that actually is a huge red flag for me,” he said. “The possibilities should be finite, determined, and accountable, that’s what those possibilities should be.”

Opposition from a resident

Another resident, Thomas Henry stood to speak, but before introducing himself for the record, asked the audience how many people were in the room to speak against the proposal. Only two out of 23 raised their hands.

Henry said he is not in favor of the tax, because he said it has not been fairly represented to the people. He said there was not enough information circulated by those who are asking voters to make a decision either way.

“They don’t mention that the RAP tax will cost Washington County and St. George taxpayers $25 million over the next ten years,” Henry said. “That’s right, $25 million, and that’s a lot of those pennies that they are talking about over here.”

Right then, Henry’s time expired, and he was asked to take a seat. Citing that he was one of the few voices in the room opposed to the tax, Henry asked for more time, but was denied at first by the commission. Making sure that every person in the room who wanted to speak got a turn at the pulpit, commissioners later invited Henry to resume his speech.

Henry said he was surprised and grateful for the additional opportunity to complete his thoughts; but he said he did have a difficult time gathering them once again in front of an audience with opposing views.

Henry made a few additional points, hinging on the concept that Washington County is a Republican, conservative community, and a tax hike request of any kind goes against the values of many who reside there – even if it does have good intentions behind it.

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10 Comments

  • PROTECT THE SHEEP October 22, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    For a place supposedly full of liberty-loving republicans they sure like to levy these goofy taxes on us. Rebuilding old junk buildings and other ridiculous items.

    • yerm October 23, 2014 at 12:47 am

      Agreed. unless they spell out exactly what the money will be used for and place limitations so that it can’t be Iincreased on a whim, I’m voting no. I refuse to fund some idiotic pet-project someone comes up with or boost the paycheck of the leisure services director.

  • Anonymous October 23, 2014 at 1:10 am

    Cache county has had a RAP tax for more than 2.5 decades. The tax is only only restaurants, I.E. eating out tax. Cache County’s sponsors major artists, a continuing art festival and a community center just for art, The Ellen Eccles Theater. The tax funded purchasing the theater and renovating it as well as helping get community programs up and running. Multiple dance groups, music groups, childrens theater programs, pottery, ect, all are funded through it.
    My point is if it is done right it can be extremely beneficial for the area. If it is done wrong, it can be a boat anchor.

  • Big Guy October 23, 2014 at 6:54 am

    Why is government involved with the arts via a RAP tax? Nothing but controversy can come from it: think $ millions for the Electric Theater. The arts, both visual and performing, should be supported by those willing to pay to purchase or watch them. If such private support is inadequate, so be it. Many small businesses of every kind fail every year for the same reason. Should government use tax dollars to keep these businesses afloat because they are deemed “worthy” in some way or because they provide jobs? Any argument about attracting and catering to tourists can be made about many small businesses. I am especially concerned about government support of performing arts. Any performing artist should be skeptical about government agencies or bureaucrats deciding whether their performance is “worthy” of government support. An artist wanting to perform a “serious” work oriented toward adults and addressing a controversial topic (think “The Vagina Diaries”) with government support will create an uproar in this socially conservative community. While performing artists with “safe” topics (think “Mary Poppins”) will be ridiculed for failing to address serious issues. The whole field is fraught with land mines that government should avoid: let individual patrons decide what they will support…and what they will not. And for those that want government support of the arts, I would ask why not government support of professional athletics: baseball and football teams have struggled here. Are they not worthy of government support? Why not? The list of “worthy” endeavors goes on and on. Who decides what is “worthy?” Get government out of this arena. Vote NO on RAP.

  • Frequent Visitor October 23, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Seriously, you’re going to question a ONE CENT tax on every ten bucks spent? Locals know the cheaper places to buy, so they can save some money and the tourists (like me) are TILL going to come and pay that extra penny. Dinner for two? Okay, I spend 2 or 3 cents more than I did last year.
    If these people have the extra money to come to Washington County on vacation, I’m pretty certain they can afford that.

    • Herd October 23, 2014 at 8:53 am

      Republicans equal Socialism

  • el jefe October 23, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I, for one, am sick and tired of paying taxes for things I don’t use. I don’t care if it’s only 1 cent per 10 dollars. It’s still a tax! I pay enough taxes for local education and my kids have been out of school for over 25 years. Fuel taxes and St. George still has plenty of screwed up streets. Just another revenue raising scheme. I will not vote for this or any other taxes…..and I urge other voters not to vote for it either.

  • Herd October 23, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Your city council probably will waste in on their pet projects or personal agendas, such as keeping music and dance venues out of the downtown area by purchasing the run down electric theater building for more than an old building is worth. Now they want to dump another few million into it for more of their own pet project agenda items. In St George, it’s not “We The People”. It’s “You people are stupid”

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