Iron County officials discuss legal issues involving library fund, surplus

Enoch City Treasurer Dan Jessen (blue shirt) speaks with Iron County Auditor Gene Adams (plaid shirt) and others in attendance at a special Iron County Commission work meeting, April 6, 2016, Cedar City, Utah | photo taken by Tracie Sullivan, Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY – Officials finally agreed Wednesday to resolve the legal issues surrounding the Iron County library fund and address questions about the current $245,000 surplus no one currently knows how to distribute.

For more than 60 years, the county has imposed and collected a tax for Parowan and Cedar City that it distributes back to the cities for the operating expenses of each city’s library.

The practice was a result of a handshake agreement in 1954 between county leaders and the library board. Read more on the history of the library fund here.

At the time, it was agreed to split two-tenths of the tax between the Parowan and Cedar City Libraries for operating expenses. Cedar City was to receive two-thirds of the distribution and Parowan was to receive one-third. The other eight-tenths went to fund buildings.

Since then the distribution has changed to include an appropriation to the Bookmobile, which is part of the state library system.

Last year, the entire process came under scrutiny by an Enoch public official who questioned its legality under Utah Code 9-7-504-(3)(a).

According to that law, it is illegal for the county to use library taxes it collects for anything other than its own county library fund.

Enoch City Manager Rob Dotson brought the code to the county commission’s attention during a meeting February 2015, raising concerns in the county attorney’s office.

Cedar City attorney Paul Bittmenn suggested at the time the county and cities create an interlocal agreement to resolve the issue, but Iron County Deputy County Attorney Mike Edwards questioned whether the agreement was sufficient to avoid breaking the law.

The issue has since been bantered back and forth for the last 14 months.

In an interview Tuesday with Cedar City News, Local Government Division Director Van Christensen with the Utah State Auditor’s Office confirmed it would be legal for the two taxing entities to create an agreement allowing the county to continue collecting the tax.

“I can’t find anywhere in the law where you can’t do an interlocal agreement,” Christensen said. “Where the city and the county can both offer a library under the law then there is no reason why they can’t enter into an interlocal agreement on this. I also think it would be good practice should there be financial issues going forward, then they can be answered in the specifics of the agreement.”

County and city officials met at the Cedar City Council chambers Wednesday to discuss the issue further. The commissioners and Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson agreed they would direct attorneys to work on an agreement outlining the specifics and details of the collected taxes.

The commissioners are expected to formalize the decision Monday in a vote during their regular bi-weekly meeting.

Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams said he was optimistic that the county and cities would be able to come to an agreement.

“I want the county to continue to collect the tax but it can’t remain as is. We have to have this interlocal agreement to make sure all of the details are written down and everything is clear,” he said.

Adams, echoing the same sentiments as the mayor and others in attendance, said he felt positive about the overall meeting.

“We made great progress,” he said. “Mike Edwards studied the law and felt strongly we needed to do something different but he feels the two attorneys can sit down and come to an agreement and I feel good about that.”

Surplus

The $245,000 surplus in the county library fund, which has continued to accrue over the last 20 years, was also discussed. The county auditor has been distributing funds to each city based on a yearly bill each entity provided to the county.

Once those bills were paid, a surplus remained in the fund and continued to grow.

“The auditor just paid to the cities what they billed him,” Adams said. “They all send him a bill each year and then he just pays what they bill him.”

Now it has to be determined how the money will be distributed between the cities and the state library or Bookmobile.

County Auditor Gene Adams, in coordination with Parowan and Cedar City’s finance directors, will begin that process immediately, officials agreed.

In January 2015, the surplus totaled $499,999 but that amount was reduced when the county distributed half of the money to the cities and state library funds.

In that 2015 appropriation, Cedar City received $110,014, Parowan $29,879 and the Bookmobile was given $110,257. The amount distributed was based on assessed property values within the various cities and towns and unincorporated areas.

Wilson questioned the appropriation to Cedar City saying she does not think the city’s assessed property values are lower than those in Enoch and the unincorporated areas that fund the Bookmobile.

“We just want to know that the money that’s been collected goes back into the libraries in a fair and equitable manner based on how it’s been collected,” Wilson said. “That’s why I’m glad that our finance director and Enoch’s finance director and the county and probably someone from Parowan will all be involved in working through how the surplus should be allocated together.”

The commissioners agreed to also have the auditor and finance directors examine the numbers.

“This is one of the things we’ll have on paper going forward,” Adams said.

Read more on the history of the library fund here.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Ed. Note: Cedar City News | CedarCityUtah.com is a counterpart to St. George News | StGeorgeNews.com.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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