County gets clean bill of health for 2014 finances, clarifies casita ordinance

ST. GEORGE – Washington County clarified rules governing accessory dwellings and paved the way for residents to be able to appeal property tax interest, fees and penalties at its regular County Commission meeting held Tuesday; the county also received a clean bill of health from an auditing firm for its 2014 fiscal year financial statements.

“It’s fairly significant,” Mike Spilker, of the accounting firm HintonBurdick, said. Spilker said his company audits more than 120 entities each year, and there are only a few that are given a “clean opinion” as far as material weaknesses or significant deficiencies related to the financial statement.

“We only found a handful of audit adjustments, so I think your staff is to be commended for that,” Spilker said. “There’s been significant progress over the years, and that’s a big feather in the county’s cap.”

The few problems that were found were due to new rules and regulations issued by the state auditor’s office, Spilker said.

During 2014, sales taxes revenue collected increased by 6.8 percent, the transient room tax revenue increased 18.1, and restaurant tax revenue went up 9.1 percent.

“So, there’s fairly significant increases there, which is a nice change from what we’ve experienced for several years in a row in the not-so-recent past,” Spilker said.

Total  revenues for the county were $66.2 million, and the cost of all the programs in the county was $58.9 million.

Through regular debt service payments, county debt has decreased by $6 million, from $47 million down to $41 million, Spilker said.

In the county’s general fund, total revenues were almost $1 million more than expected, and expenditures were $926,000 less than budgeted, Spilker said, which is very positive.

The county’s financial reports are available through the Washington County website’s “Audited Financial Statements” Web page and on the Utah Public Finance section of the Transparent.utah.gov website.

Accessory dwellings

The commission amended an ordinance governing accessory dwellings to clarify language and standardize ordinances. The ordinance language now includes the terms casitas, guesthouses and mother-in-law apartments and suites.

According to the new language in the ordinance, an accessory dwelling can be part of an existing house, a detached or attached garage, or a similar building that meets the minimum requirements for a living space that can be occupied.

An accessory dwelling can only be occupied by family members or guests of the owner of the main dwelling. Such facilities shall not be rented independently from the main dwelling unit.

The previous 900-square-foot limit on accessory dwellings was removed from the ordinance, as the trend is towards bigger houses and bigger accessory dwellings.

At the meeting, the commission also passed an ordinance allowing residents and other property owners to appeal personal property tax related to interest, penalties and fees.

The ordinance notes that the Utah Code Section 59-2-306 allows the county assessor to require a taxpayer to provide a signed statement describing real and personal property. The law also allows a penalty of 10 percent of the taxes due if a taxpayer fails to return the statement on or before May 15.

“The current delinquency fee may impose a significant financial burden on many taxpayers,” the ordinance states. County officials wanted to allow residents to appeal interest, penalties and fees; however, state law required the county to pass a specific ordinance to accomplish this.

Property taxes may also be appealed, but that process is governed by state law, and the procedure is already in place.

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1 Comment

  • beacon September 2, 2015 at 10:58 am

    I guess the fact that our illustrious county commissioners spend $25,000 of our taxpayer dollars contributing yearly (!) to the American Lands Council to support Rep. Ken Ivory’s efforts to get public lands that we probably can’t afford to support anyway doesn’t trouble auditors. It certainly troubles many taxpayers! How would our conservative population feel if the commissioners were contributing to non-profits that support environmental issues? Not very good, I’ll bet. The point is our tax money shouldn’t be shuttled to any of these groups no matter what their political persuasions.

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