ST. GEORGE – The Washington County Commission approved an amended interlocal agreement Tuesday for the distribution of the new Recreation, Arts and Parks tax revenue and funded a new checkout system for the county’s libraries.
The RAP tax passed in the 2014 general election and is expected to generate $2 million per year for the entire county; it will be used to help fund recreational and cultural facilities and organizations.
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The law took effect April 15, and money from the tax is just starting to come in; county and municipal officials are working to develop guidelines and procedures for distributing the money.
The interlocal agreement governs how RAP funds are divided between the county and the county municipalities, among other things, and the amended agreement is just a refinement, Deputy County Attorney Eric Clarke said.
The County Commission and the cities first approved the agreement in 2014, prior to the election and implementation of the tax, Clarke said, and the agreement was sent to the municipalities for approval. However, the cities asked for clarification of a few points.
One point in question is the role of the county advisory board, which has already been set up to oversee distribution of its funds. The agreement clarifies that municipalities in the county may choose to use the advisory board but are not obligated to do so, Clarke said.
The agreement also clarified that RAP tax money can be used to fund ongoing operating expenses for recreational and cultural facilities that the cities maintain, Clarke said, and that the county will not be micromanaging the way the cities spend the money.
“It’s their responsibility to look at the law and follow that, and talk with the state auditor’s office if they have questions,” Clarke said. “The county does not want to be telling the cities how they have to spend their money.”
The county budget runs on a calendar year so it will not be distributing any RAP tax money until 2016. This gives county officials some time to get the process in place.
Cities such as Ivins and St. George run on a fiscal year from July to July, and so are hurrying to figure out how to work the tax money into their budgets and how to handle the application process for distributing the funds.
“If they don’t build that into their budgets now, then it will sit there for a year,” Clarke said.
“I think everybody’s really excited to have this new money and be spending it in different ways,” Clarke said. “It’s money that has to go towards fun stuff. All the city councils and city managers are having a lot of conversations right now about how that’s going to go,” he said.
It is estimated the RAP tax will generate $2 million total for the county, and St. George City will be getting about half of that, Clarke said. Each municipality and the county will have its own application processes.
RAP tax monies can be used for things like athletic fields, parks, playgrounds, campgrounds, trails, swimming pools, gymnasiums and other recreational facilities.
The funds will also benefit nonprofit organizations, institutions and county and municipal cultural councils that focus on the advancement and preservation of art, music, theater, dance, cultural arts or natural history. The RAP tax will be in effect for 10 years and then will have to be approved again by voters.
RAP tax funds are divided between the county and the municipalities, according to a formula.
Fifteen percent will go to the county to be distributed. Of the remaining 85 percent, two-thirds will be divided among the county and municipalities based on population and one-third based on “point of sale” – where the sales tax was actually collected.
In other business, the commission approved $196,095 for a new self-checkout system for the Washington County library system.
“I’m really excited about getting self-checkout in the libraries,” Washington County Library Director Joel Tucker told the commission. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Of all the libraries in Utah that serve a population of 50,000 or greater, Tucker said, Washington County is the only one that doesn’t have self-checkout.
“I’m excited to take this step and move into the new age, if you will,” Tucker said.
The project is being funded by state grants, an annuity from a private donation and from $75,000 budgeted specifically for the project.
The larger branches will get self-checkout terminals first, although all 320,000 books in the county library system will get radio-frequency identification tags.
All county libraries will be equipped with special antennae to read the RFID tags at the checkout desk. This will allow the library staff to easily scan stacks of books more quickly than is now possible with the existing bar code system.
If the program is successful, and popular, more self-checkout terminals will be added, Tucker said.
Commissioner Zachary Renstrom, who also serves on the library board, said Tucker has done a lot of research, and he feels the self-checkout system is a good investment.
Renstrom added that rumors the new technology would do away with library staff are unfounded.
“We’re not laying off anybody, this will just make them a little bit more efficient.”
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