CEDAR CITY – Iron County Commissioners voted down a proposed tax cut Monday but chose to give employees a small raise in the upcoming 2017 budget.
The commission unanimously approved the 2017 $39.9 million budget at their biweekly meeting.
The budget increased from $37.8 million in 2016 to $39.9 million this coming year. That number does not reflect the estimated $142,000 slated for all employees to receive an additional 25 cents an hour, with the exception of the commissioners and any staff employed less than six months. Part-time employees will receive a percentage of the wage increase based on the number of hours worked per week.
Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff did not vote in favor of the pay raise, pointing to next year’s 10 percent increase for insurance premiums, a tab picked up in its entirety by the county. In addition, the commission also approved returning a $500 match to employees’ health savings plans they had taken away in 2016. The two combined are estimated to cost the county an additional $515,000
“I don’t believe that we should have done both,” Brinkerhoff said. “Money we pay to insurance premiums is money the employees don’t have to pay out of their own pocket, and we also gave them back the $500 so that’s even more money in their pockets.”
Commissioner Alma Adams and Interim Commissioner Casey Anderson both approved the hourly raise.
The increase to employees’ salaries came just weeks after some elected leaders spoke out in a public hearing. Iron County Assessor Cindy Bulloch reminded commissioners of a commitment she said they made last year to increase wages for three years to bring them up to a competitive level.
In 2016, county salaries increased by $750,000 following a wage study conducted the previous year. Commissioner Alma Adams pointed to this study as the primary reason he voted for the salary increase.
The wage study showed the county was paying employees significantly under what other counties of similar size are currently paying and was similarly lagging behind in comparison to the private sector, Adams said.
“There is a market out there, and it seems like we should have a modest increase, maybe not every year,” Adams said, “but I feel like I could support a modest increase this year so we don’t get too far behind.”
Adams voted with Anderson for the salary increase but stopped short with the tax cut.
Brinkerhoff also voted against the tax cut, stating he is focusing on paying off the county’s debt and replenishing the rainy day fund. Commissioners reduced the fund this year from $26 million to approximately $14 million with the pay-off of several buildings. In doing so, the county eliminated nearly $500,000 in annual payments.
Several residents who attended the meeting for another issue wanted to speak on the tax cut, but Adams, who is the chairman of the commission, refused to open the meeting up for public comment.
Brad Green, an Iron County resident and business owner, wrote a post on social media after the meeting criticizing Adams for not allowing public discussion.
“What a benevolent tyrant he is,” Green said. “That’s the most chicken-s— thing I’ve ever seen in a public meeting. Shame on you Alma.”
Several others followed suit with comments on Green’s post, including Iron County resident Paul Cozzens, who had concerns that the commission did not allow for public discussion.
“It was in poor taste not to allow comments on the agenda item when it came up,” Cozzens said.
Adams later told St. George News that residents had an opportunity to speak out on the issue earlier in the meeting during the public comment period.
“We opened up the public comment period to anything and everything they wanted to talk about,” Adams said. “We do not normally open up agenda items that aren’t a public hearing for discussion with the public. If someone raises their hand and they want to address something then of course we’ll listen, but it is not normal protocol for the commission to open every agenda item up for public comments.”
Cozzens said the public comment period was prior to the discussion on the tax cut, and he felt he needed to wait until he had all of the information before commenting.
“There was a lot that Casey (Anderson) said that I had no idea he was going to say. So I couldn’t have talked to that issue in an educated way before I heard what he had to say,” Cozzens said. “That’s why you wait to open it up for public discussion until after the elected body has had a chance to discuss it.”
If passed, the tax cut would have reduced the budget in 2017 by $250,000.
The decrease would have only meant about $6 back on a home appraised by the county at $100,000; however, in his social media post, Green said, “It would show the public that the county is working to reduce the government’s burden on the people.”
Adams told St. George News he did not vote for the tax cut largely because he felt the commission needed more information in order to move forward.
“We don’t even know how to do a tax cut,” Adams said. “We don’t know the procedure, so we need time to do some research and figure out how we go about giving a tax cut before we do it. I’m not against a tax cut; I just feel we need more time. It wasn’t the time.”
The budget increase from this year to 2017 is largely due to an additional $3 million added to the budget and earmarked for construction on the new public safety building.
The county took out a loan from the Community Impact Board for the money. However, the payments will be entirely covered by lease revenue, Brinkerhoff said. The commission is scheduled to meet with the state, who is renting the building, to finalize the agreement Thursday.
Construction is already underway on the new building that will be located behind the Iron County Sheriff’s Office and jail on North Main Street. The facilities will house the offices for Utah Highway Patrol, Cedar Communications Dispatch, Utah Adult Parole and Probation, the Iron County Drug Task Force and the Driver’s License Division.
Discussion on proposed ordinance for short-term rentals
In other business, the commission postponed a vote until after the New Year on a proposed ordinance on short-term rentals, including Airbnb.com and VRBO.com.
If ultimately passed, the ordinance would not affect hosts living in the home while renting out a space but would only involve those renting out their entire home.
Anderson and Adams both said they had received numerous public comments regarding the issue and did not want to take action until they had an opportunity to consider those.
Several opponents of the proposed ordinance commented during the meeting stating they believed the ordinance duplicated regulations already on the books under current state and county laws. This included the collection of transient room tax and zoning regulations.
The Iron County Commission will consider the issue again at the next meeting on Jan. 3, 2017. The commission meets bi-weekly at 9 a.m. in the commission chambers at the Parowan Courthouse located at 68 E. 100 South in Parowan.
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