CEDAR CITY – The Iron County Commission eliminated around $450,000 in annual payments by recently voting to pay off most of its debts.
The commission voted last week to pay off 6 of 8 buildings the county still owed money on, freeing up a whopping $454,000 every year that commissioners say will save the taxpayers money.
Iron County Auditor Gene Adams reviewed the numbers during Tuesday’s meeting where the commissioners held a public hearing on the upcoming 2017 tentative budget.
Checks were written for the visitor’s center, fire station, jail, Festival Hall and Heritage Center, and the senior citizen and justice court buildings.
The commissioners’ decision left the county owing a balance for only two buildings – public safety and its portion of The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts – and neither of those are paid by property taxes but rather from outside revenues.
The public safety building will be entirely paid for with state funds via revenue collected by the county in lease payments for the Department of Public Safety and other state agencies that have contracted to be housed inside.
The transient room tax paid by tourists when staying in local hotels and campgrounds, and the like, largely pays for The Beverley.
Interim Commissioner Casey Anderson called the decision to pay down the debt service a wise choice.
“This will allow us to do more things in the county and I believe it will benefit everyone,” Anderson said. “We may not be the county with the least amount debt in the state but per capita I would feel confident to say we’re close to having the least amount of debt. We’re in a very good position now.”
The debt service payoff will also help the county remain solvent through economic downturns, he added.
“When there is an economic recession, the debt service has to be paid first in order to maintain a level of service. But those are also the things that are often the most difficult to pay at that time as you’re facing a reduction in revenue. So if there is another economic downtown we don’t have the debt to worry about now that we have had, which I’m relieved of and feel we made the right decision.”
The county had approximately $26 million in its rainy day fund prior to paying down the debt service. The payments reduced the rainy day total to around $14 million – a number Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff said he would like to maintain going forward.
“I want to make sure we have money to maintain the county if there is another economic recession,” he said. “We need that money to remain in that account.”
While the commission drastically reduced the county’s debt for 2017, the budget will see another $750,000 obligation added next year with the upcoming remodel of the Parowan Courthouse. Brinkerhoff said he would like to see that paid off as soon as possible.
“I think the residents of Iron County want to see us pay off the debt,” Brinkerhoff said. “I’d like to see us pay that $750,000. That would make us almost entirely debt free again other than those two buildings, which are taken care of through revenue collected and not paid for by property taxes.”
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