ST. GEORGE – So what is the No. 1 issue the public asks St. George Mayor Jon Pike about when he’s out in the community? The answer is, “roads.” That’s what Pike said Friday morning during a presentation before prospective voters about Proposition 1, a ballot measure that would raise local sales tax by 0.25 percent for transportation infrastructure funding.
About 70 people gathered at the Issues Over Eggs breakfast hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce to learn more about Proposition 1 and why Pike and other municipal officials feel it would be a benefit if passed.
Funding allocated from the state to the county and cities through the state gas tax has been decreasing over the years. The tax rate remained the same between 1997 and 2015.
In 2015, the Legislature raised the tax for the first time in nearly 20 years. The tax was increased by 5 cents per gallon of gasoline.
Since 1997, cars have become more fuel-efficient or use alternative fuels instead of gasoline. This has resulted in less gas consumption and ultimately less funding for transportation projects.
“So what has happened is that the county and us, as the cities, have had to supplement the maintenance of our roads through our general funds,” Ivins mayor Chris Hart said. “In Ivins City, those funds are primarily from our property tax. And so other services are compromised to some extent by the revenue that we’re compelled to provide for road maintenance.”
When the state gas tax was implemented in 2015, the Legislature also authorized a “local option sales tax” as a way to provide counties and cities with additional funding. However, this measure has to be approved by the voters.
This is why civic leaders are hoping to educate the public about the ballot measure, Proposition 1.
“That, to me, is the best thing we can do,” Pike said.
The proposed sales tax of 0.25 percent equals 1 cent out of every $4 spent on nonfood items.
According to data from the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the 0.25 percent sales tax is estimated to generate annual revenue to St. George of $1.4 million for transportation infrastructure and $1.6 million for the SunTran public transit service. Washington County would receive around $800,000.
It is anticipated that 30 to 40 percent of that revenue will come from visitors to the county, Pike said.
Possible uses for the funds include building new roads and expanding existing ones, as well as general maintenance and pavement preservation. Active transportation needs are also factored into the funding for trails, bike paths and related facilities.
St. George could definitely use the funds, St. George Public Works Director Cameron Cutler said. The city has 362 miles of paved roads to maintain, with between five and 10 new miles added each year due to continued growth.
“When you have a lot of roads in your city, you need to keep them up,” Cutler said. Currently, the city commits $2.2 million to pavement preservation.
Myron Lee, director of the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, said local governments do need to find more money for road facilities.
“We’re seeing a great deal of congestion,” Lee said, adding that the county currently experiences 2,200 hours of traffic delays a day.
The congestion is only going to get worse as the county grows, Lee said, but that can be alleviated somewhat through the funding Proposition 1 would provide.
By 2040, the county is expected to have over 340,000 residents. If no new roads are added between now and then, Lee said daily traffic delays would reach 45,000 hours. If funding largely remains as it is now, delays will be around 19,000 hours a day. If Proposition 1 passes, it is projected that infrastructure bolstered by that funding will help cut delays to 10,000 hours by 2040.
While expanding and maintaining roadways and related infrastructure is a primary point of Proposition 1, the measure also addresses public transit.
The only public transit system in the county right now is SunTran, which is overseen by the City of St. George. The current budget for the transit system is $1.7 million, a large part of which is subsidized through federal grants.
SunTran primarily serves the St. George area, but has expanded into Ivins and ridership has grown every year since the service began in 2003. In its first year, SunTran had 66,000 riders. That number swelled to nearly 500,000 in 2015.
According to a survey conducted earlier this year focused on improving SunTran service, riders showed a high level of satisfaction with the bus service but also requested expanded routes to Washington City and SunRiver. Riders also asked for buses to run on Sunday.
Those are requests that could possibly be met in the future with funds garnered from the proposed sales tax increase, Pike said.
Funds from the 0.25 percent sales tax would essentially double SunTran’s budget St. George-based budget by providing an additional $1.6 million.
The potential funds for transit service could also help start expanded bus service to Zion National Park from St. George, Lee said. The possibility of service to Zion is being looked into by the Five County Association of Governments.
While many in attendance at Friday’s presentation appeared in favor of the increased sales tax being used for roadway projects, providing funds to public transit wasn’t too appealing to others.
St. George residents Don Tarinelli said he felt the funding to SunTran was too much.
“My major concern is I think a disproportionate amount is going to the public transit system,” Tarinelli said. “With this proposal we would double their annual budget.”
Although undecided on the ballot measure, Tarinelli said more money should go toward road maintenance.
Pike is hopeful about the proposition.
“I think it’ll pass, but I don’t think it’ll pass by a lot,” he said, comparing the measure to the 2014 RAP tax that passed with a close vote.
If the measure fails to pass, Pike said the voters will have given the city its “marching orders.” That is to say: work with what you have. As such, certain projects will just take longer to get to, or not happen at all.
“These roads are something that cost a lot of money to maintain,” Pike said. “It’s important to maintain them so that you don’t to pay more later to replace a road entirely.”
The Washington County Commission will be holding a public hearing on Proposition 1 on Oct. 18 at 6 p.m., at the Washington County Administrative Building, 197 E. Tabernacle St. in St. George.
- Washington County: A brief rundown of what Proposition 1 is. It also offers with written opinions for and against the proposal featuring area mayors and Larry Meyers, chairman of the Dixie Republican Forum
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