Washington City secures ‘a place in line for funds’ if county enacts sales tax to fund transportation

WASHINGTON CITY  The Washington City Council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday declaring its intent to pursue transit funding should the county impose a 0.25% local option sales tax for road and transit funding by the end of the month.

Members of the Washington City Council, Washington City, Utah, June 12, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Washington City officials have wanted to bring public transit into the city for many years and were on the cusp of doing so in early 2015 until funding issues arose.

“We were a week away from ordering a bus in conjunction with St. George SunTran and actually had a route established but didn’t do it because funding didn’t work out,” Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said following a City Council meeting Wednesday.

Since then, city officials have looked to other avenues for funding, like the proposed 0.25% local option sales tax that was put before county voters on the 2016. Known as Prop 1 at the time, the measure was killed by voters that year.

Among those who opposed the proposed tax hike in 2016 was Larry Meyers, head of the Dixie Republican Forum, a private group not affiliated with the county or state GOP. At the time he said the local governments should learn to do more with the money they have.

He recently told St. George News that his opinion hasn’t changed.

Telegraph Street, Washington City, Utah, June 2017 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“I remain opposed to any tax increases. We already carry a heavy tax burden. Road construction is a proper role of county government, but I don’t think increasing taxes isn’t the way to do it.”

The 0.25% sales tax option rose from the grave in 2018 thanks to state legislation passed that year that allows counties to pursue implementing the sales tax. Funds raised by the tax would be distributed among the county’s municipalities and transit districts with the remainder kept by the county for its own transportation and transit projects.

Read more: County, municipal officials favor local sales tax to fund St. George-Springdale transit route

According to the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the sales tax revenue would be distributed as follows:

  • 0.10% goes to the municipalities and unincorporated areas without transit services.
  • 0.10% goes to the municipalities with transit services. That would be St. George and Ivins.
  • 0.05% goes to the county in areas with transit service.

Where there is no transit service, the cities will get the 40% of the 0.25% sales tax revenue while the county gets the remaining 60%.

The sales tax option was the subject of a meeting between elected county and municipal leaders last month. Using the transit portion of the sales tax to help fund a proposed St. George to Springdale route being set up by the Utah Department of Transportation was one of the prime topics of conversation and drew general support from all involved.

Barricades marking a road closure on Telegraph Road, Washington City, Utah, Sept. 26, 2016 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Read more: UDOT commits $15M to explore, implement Springdale-St. George transit route

Washington County officials have touted the St. George-Springdale route as a possible foundation for a countywide transit system municipalities like Washington City could tie into. However, Councilman Douglas Ward said the county may be shying away from that idea.

Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist told St. George News Thursday that the county is still looking at a backbone concept for the St. George-Springdale route. As for the proposed 0.25% sales tax, commissioners plan to discuss it in a meeting next Tuesday.

Ward said if plans for the route exclude Washington City and other municipalities it would likely affect his position on how funds from the sales tax are used. However, he said he has more research to do on the issue before coming to a solid conclusion one way or another.

If the county doesn’t impose the tax by June 30, municipalities will be given the option to impose the 0.25% sales tax by June 30, 2020.

With the resurrection of the tax, city officials again see the opportunity to bring transit into Washington City, along with funds for road construction and maintenance on top of that.

Riders disembark SunTran buses on Tabernacle Street, St. George, Utah, Nov. 25, 2015 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“A portion of (the sales tax option) does come in for road improvements,” Councilman Troy Belliston said. “The other portion of it is for transit, and we’ve had a long time desire to expand transit into Washington City so we can get our residents around and give our under-served population an opportunity to get to work easier.”

Proclaiming the city’s intent to establish transit service qualifies Washington City to get the extra 0.10% from the 0.25% sales tax where it otherwise wouldn’t, Belliston said.

However, while the City Council supports getting the transit funding, Wednesday’s vote was not one declaring support for the county enacting the proposed sales tax. Council hasn’t discussed the potential tax yet, Belliston said in a text Thursday.

“Last night’s resolution was more of a vote to ensure that we have a place in line for funds, assuming the (County Commission) implements the tax,” Belliston said. “If they choose not to, then we would likely discuss whether or not we as a council want to vote on it.”

Like other mayors in the county, Neilson has expressed a general support the county imposing the sales tax. However, he also said it will ultimately be left to the City Council to choose whether the city issues any declarations of support.

The resolution is only valid as long as the county chooses to implement the local option sales tax. If it does not, starting July 1, the county’s municipalities are given the opportunity to pursue imposing the tax individually.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated the resolution passed by the Washington City Council Wednesday was in support of the 0.25% sales tax. This was reported in error and has been corrected. 

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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