ST. GEORGE – The St. George City Council joined others in the county Thursday in passing a resolution urging the County Commission to put a proposed local sales tax increase for transportation funding up for voter approval this November.
Earlier this year the Utah Legislature passed Senate Bill 362, enacting laws for Transportation Infrastructure Funding in an effort to alleviate continuing shortfalls in transportation funding. While the bill raises the state’s gas tax by by 5 cents per gallon of fuel starting next year, it also allows counties to implement a local sales tax option of 0.25 percent via voter approval.
The tax is equivalent to 1 cent for every $4 spent and would fund critical local transportation needs for walking, biking trails, road improvements and public transit service expansion.
According to a report from the Utah League of Cities and Towns, Washington County faces an annual transportation funding shortfall of $11.1 million. St. George faces an annual shortfall of $5.8 million. With the passage of the Transportation Infrastructure Funding bill, revenues from next year’s gas tax increase will generate $1.15 million and $448,500 for the county and city respectively.
“It’s still a drop in the bucket,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said during a City Council meeting Thursday.
Issues related to the city’s transportation infrastructure are among the primary topics residents bring to the City Council on a recurring basis, Pike said.
Set before the council Thursday was a resolution requesting the county put the local sales tax option on the ballot in November. Other cities, such as Ivins, Santa Clara and Toquerville have already approved the measure.
If the voters approve the measure, it will allow the county to enact a 0.25 percent general sales tax on items within the county, with the exception of food. Ten percent of the revenues generated by the tax would go to the cities, with the remaining 15 percent going to the county.
The county could receive up to $5.8 million, and St. George could possibly receive $1.4 million. Both would be in addition to funds generated from the 5 cents per gallon gas tax increase.
Funds would go toward the maintenance and updating of roadways, as well as the creation and upkeep of active and alternate transportation infrastructure like trails and bike paths.
The city also stands to gain an additional $1.6 million from the local sales tax option for investment in SunTran, the city’s public transit service.
“None of us likes taxes,” Councilwoman Bette Arial said, “… but there is a reality to the transportation situation.”
The last time the state’s gas tax was raised was 1997, and revenues from the tax have been decreasing in recent years due to the advent of more fuel-efficient cars and transportation alternatives, Pike said.
Because of the decreased funding, counties and cities have had to tend to transportation needs with money from their general funds.
Roads are like cavities, Councilman Gil Almquist said, you can only ignore them so for long, and the longer you ignore them, the more expensive they are to fix.
The City Council unanimously passed the measure.
“If the voters don’t approve it, we’ll continue to do what we’re doing and we’ll do the best with what we have,” Pike said.
The City Council awarded a $153,789 bid to Royal T Enterprises for the installation of a traffic signal at the intersection of River Road and Brigham Road.
A $142,274 professional services agreement was approved for CRSA Architectural Services for the full architectural and construction design of a new fleet maintenance building for the city. The new building, slated to run around $2.3 million overall, is being built to meet the demands of the city’s growing fleet. The new building will also provide adequate space for larger vehicles such as SunTran buses, which the currently building lacks.
A professional services agreement with Carollo Engineers was also approved for bench-scale testing and pilot-scale testing for a proposed Gunlock water treatment plant to address arsenic in the water. The testing will provide information concerning chemical dosages rates, filter sizes and aid in determining the overall design of the treatment plant. The purpose of the plant is to offset arsenic levels present in the water at the Gunlock well field. City officials hope to access the water in the well field and bring into into the city’s existing water supply.
St. George News Reporter Julie Applegate contributed to this post.
Ed. note on legislation
The Transportation Infrastructure Funding bill, 6HB362, was brought during the 2015 General Session of the Utah Legislature. It passed the Senate 20-8, with 1 not voting; from Southern Utah, Sens. Ralph Okerlund, David Hinkins, Steve Urquhart and Evan Vickers all voted for the bill. It passed the House 44-29, with 2 not voting; from Southern Utah, Reps. Brad Last, John Westwood, Michael Noel, V. Lowry Snow, Don Ipson, and Merrill Nelson voted for the bill, and Rep. Jon Stanard voted against it. The bill was signed by the governor March 27 and the law is effective July 1.
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