ST. GEORGE – A proposed quarter-percent sales tax that would fund transportation infrastructure needs in Washington County appears to be on the losing end of the vote, according to Tuesday’s preliminary election returns. However, that could change.
Called Proposition 1, or “Prop 1,” the referendum currently stands to fail with 52 percent of voters shooting down the measure while 47 percent voting in support of it. That breaks down to 24,569 votes against the tax increase and 22,464 votes for it.
The unofficial tally includes early voting results and votes made during Election Day. It does not include mail-in and provisional ballots yet to be counted, nor the paper ballots voters had to fill out during the voting machine glitch that occurred Tuesday morning.
The county will release the official canvass results of the general election by Nov. 22.
Proposition 1 would increase the local sales tax by 0.25 percent – or 1 cent out of every $4 – and have that go toward the funding of transportation infrastructure, as well as public transit. The tax would not apply to food items or medication. It is anticipated that between 30 to 40 percent of the tax would be paid by tourists visiting or passing through the county.
Prior to Election Day, St. George Mayor Jon Pike said he believed the vote would be close, yet was hopeful it would ultimately pass.
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, he said.
Pike reiterated that sentiment over Facebook Tuesday night. “We will continue to do the best we can with the resources we have,” the mayor said.
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.
SunTran’s annual budget is currently $1.7 million. Passage of Prop 1 would double that and allow for potential route expansions and additional hours of service, which could include runs on Sundays, both Pike and St. George Public Works Director Cameron Cutler have said.
Infrastructure wise, funds from the sales tax would go to road upgrades and maintenance, as well as new projects. It would also be applied to infrastructure and facilities catering to active transportation needs (cycling and walking).
Larry Meyers, chairman of the Dixie Republican Forum, has voiced his opposition to the proposed tax increase.
“I think, if it doesn’t pass, it’s because people think taxes are too high and they would like the government to do more with what they have,” Meyers said. “People have told me the cities need to prioritize better and make roads a higher priority over other things that are spending money on.”
If the measure ultimately fails, Ivins Mayor Chris Hart has said that cities may need to cut funding to certain services in order to help cover road maintenance needs. Increased property taxes, particularly for smaller cities that lack a large commercial base, may be looked into to aid with road funding as well.
“Cities are faced with the choice that either we provide this service in the manner our residents expect, and find ways to budget that revenue to do it, or if we’re constricted to a point we simply don’t have any place to give, then the level of service has to drop off,” Hart said.
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