OPINION — Community leaders across the globe are grappling with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Washington County has not escaped unscathed. Like you, we are concerned about our health, our businesses and our families. However, we remain cautiously optimistic about the future because of the planning and preparation of the past.
Washington County has been blessed by a decade of economic prosperity. A growing number of tourists, along with new people and businesses moving to the area, has led to increased tax revenue. Still, even with the increasing revenue, we as county officials have continued to budget conservatively.
The Utah State Code requires us to balance our budget, but we have taken that a step further by striving to keep revenues at 3% over budget and expenditures at 3% under budget.
Our strategy to ensure Washington County remains financially resilient has also included refinancing loans at lower interest rates, increasing liquidity, paying county debt off early and strengthening our saving funds. Washington County has an AA+ Bond Rating which is about as good a bond rating a county our size can get.
Further, we avoid wasteful spending. We will never buy something just because we have the money. Instead, we shift funds to cover our needs and any excess is either put into savings or given back to the taxpayer through responsible tax cuts. One example of this occurred just last year when the county had excess funds from the “Local Accessing and Collecting Tax.” We voted to cut the tax rate for our citizens.
The Utah Taxpayers Association released a study in 2019, evaluating the relationship between county government revenue and citizen income across Utah’s 29 counties. The results ranked Daggett County as having the highest cost of government with each citizen paying, on average, $82.65 for every $1,000 dollars they make toward county services.
We are pleased to report that the Taxpayer’s Association study ranked Washington County the lowest out of Utah’s 29 counties. Our residents pay only $11.77 per each $1,000 made to the county government. The median cost was $33.06.
As you can see, Washington County has a legacy of doing more with less. We do not overcharge; we underspend. We refrain from taking more than we need and by keeping taxes low, we have kept more money circulating through the economy.
Of course, we still have a pandemic on our hands. Revenue has been hit hard, and budget cuts are more than likely coming. However, we have already rolled up our sleeves and are working to face these financial challenges head-on. We have grabbed the bull by the horns and issued a hiring freeze, suspended conference and out-of-state travel and require that any county expense over $1,000 dollars be approved by the County Commission.
We want to note that we appreciate our local business community and recognize that their excellence, diversity and adaptability have contributed greatly to Washington County’s financial success. To help facilitate our economic recovery, we have launched a campaign — #staygreater 2.0 — in partnership with Greater Zion and the St. George Chamber of Commerce that aims to showcase our local businesses.
Submitted by Washington County Commissioners GIL ALMQUIST, DEAN COX and VICTOR IVERSON.
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