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.
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.”
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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