Officials may have broken the law, meeting set to discuss questions surrounding library tax, surplus

CedarCityUtah.com
Stock image, Cedar City News / St. George News

CEDAR CITY – For more than 60 years Iron County might have unknowingly broken the law by collecting library taxes for the cities, officials said.

The issue in question is regarding a millage, or mill, tax imposed by the county in 1954 it has continued to collect and distribute to the various local cities. County and city officials are now debating the legality of that arrangement.

A meeting has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Cedar City Council chambers to resolve these concerns. Officials also plan to address questions surrounding a surplus of nearly $500,000 in the county library fund last year with only $245,000 left.

Library tax

According to the centennial history of the Cedar City Public Library, written by Steven D. Decker, Iron County agreed to split two-tenths of the mill 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 of one mill went to fund buildings.

In return, the cities agreed they would allow residents living in the unincorporated areas of the county to use the library free, Cedar City Attorney Paul Bittmenn said.

A mill levy is the tax rate applied by a government entity to the assessed value of a property. One mill is $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Enoch City Manager Rob Dotson called the tax into question during a February 2015 Iron County Commission meeting. Dotson pointed to Utah Code 9-7-504 (3)(a) stating he believes the law makes it illegal for the county to use library taxes it collects for anything but its own county library.

Bittmenn disagreed with Dotson. He said he believes the law allows for the cities and county to enter into an interlocal agreement allowing the county to continue imposing and collecting the tax.

“This has been something that’s been going on for a long time. I think you need to resolve it fairly and equitably,” Bittmenn said then. “I think we can do all of this by an interlocal agreement. I really do. There’s a portion in the statute that says we can cooperate on these matters.”

At the time, the county commissioners voted to create an interlocal agreement. However, the county attorney’s office later agreed with Dotson’s interpretation of the law arguing the cities must collect their own tax calling the issue back into question.

If correct, it would mean the county could only collect taxes for the bookmobile since the cities own the various libraries located within their boundaries.

In a recent interview with Cedar City News, Bittmenn said he still thinks an interlocal agreement would clear up any confusion.

“I don’t see anywhere in the law stopping us from creating an interlocal agreement on the libraries and the collection of taxes,” Bittmenn said.

Cedar City News and Bittmenn discussed the issue Tuesday with Director Van Christensen for the local government division of the Office of the Utah State Auditor, who said he believes an interlocal agreement is legal.

“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.”

Commissioner Alma Adams said last week he would like to see the county continue to collect the tax.

“I just want to maintain status quo on this,” Adams said. “I don’t want it to change. We’ve been doing things this way for a long time and we just need to maintain it.”

Surplus

As to the issue of the surplus, Mayor Maile Wilson just learned a year ago the county was maintaining a surplus, she said, so was surprised to find out during the last commission meeting, March 28, half of it might be gone.

Wilson asked the county auditor, Gene Adams, what happened to the money but said she didn’t believe there was a clear answer.

Since then, Gene Adams produced a breakdown showing the money was distributed to Cedar City, Parowan and the state. The disbursements totaled approximately $245,000.

Alma Adams said he believes the auditor made the mistake of allocating the same amount of money each year regardless of how many taxes were collected and in doing so created a surplus.

“I think he just kept paying the same amount each year but the property taxes grew during that time. He should have increased what he was giving the cities based on what was being levied but he didn’t, so the surplus grew,” he said. “We’ve been collecting it for over 20 years. It is good though to have a little cushion.

While Christensen said there is no law against the county having a surplus in this particular fund, he still believes it is a problem.

“I don’t think it’s good practice – especially that much money,” he said. “The issue becomes now, how are you going to distribute that money you’ve collected over time.”

An interlocal agreement would help to iron out these types of issues, Christensen added.

Meeting details

  • What: Public Meeting to discuss library taxes and fund maintained by Iron County
  • Where: Cedar City Council Chambers – 10 N. Main St., Cedar City
  • When: Wednesday, April 6, 1:30 p.m.

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

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

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

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