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County Evaluating Rap Tax Pros, Cons

Sun Advocate community editor

Salt Lake County has a zoo, arts and parks tax. Utah County continues to consider trying to get voters to pass a parks, arts and recreation tax. In the Weber area, an organizing committee wants the county to implement a recreation, arts, museum and parks tax. And Summit County has been using recreation, arts and parks tax revenues for a few years to fund a number of programs in the area.

Frequently called ZAP, PAR, RAMP or RAP, the related taxes generate funding for the facilities and programs included in the acronyms. And the money usually comes to the programs by charging a higher rate of sales tax within the confines of the governing bodies' borders.

An informal discussion about endorsing a RAP tax during the last few years in Carbon County has turned into more of a probability in the last couple of months. Since Salt Lake County voters passed the ZAP tax in 1996, many public officials appear to like the idea and feel it could benefit Carbon's residents in terms of services offered.

"The fact is, that is how some counties fund their recreation programs," pointed out Steve Christensen of Carbon County Recreation at an intergovernmental meeting late last month.

A good example is Uintah County where a "zoological tax" was passed by voters in August 1996. The tax became effective in October 1996 and will run for a term of 10 years.

According to Carla White of the Uintah County Clerk's Office, the revenues collected as a result of the tax are pursuant to state law. The money shall be distributed by the county's legislative body, with 30 percent earmarked to support publicly owned recreational facilities and 70 percent allocated to local botanical, cultural and zoological organizations. The funding decisions are made by the Uintah County Commission.

The idea of similar taxes is appealing to many people. But if and when the details are worked out, a local tax would need careful structuring to be sure all governments in the area get a fair share.

"If such a plan is ever to approved by the county, it would have to be set up from the beginning as to how money would be allocated to various agencies and cities," stated Carbon Commissioner Bill Krompel.

Most of the related types of taxes come from an increase in sales tax in a specific area. Salt Lake added one-tenth of 1 percent to the county's sales tax. The action has garnered Salt Lake County more than $90 million since the tax was enacted seven years ago.

Estimates by officials in Carbon County is that the same type of addition to the sales tax here would generate in the neighborhood of $350,000 per year.

"The good thing about doing it through sales tax is that some of the funds generated would come from those spending in the county who don't live here," stated Krompel.

While tourists tend to spend a significant amount of money, Emery residents who shop in the Carbon area would be some of the biggest contributors to the fund.

The tax could not be levied by commissioners or city officials, but must be approved by local voters. Proponents of the idea are working to have the matter included on the November ballot..

A similar tax was recently voted down in Utah County. But cities like Orem in Utah County have considered putting a related tax of on the ballot.

In Carbon County a poll taken on the Sun Advocate's website in early May showed that 47 percent of the respondents supported a similar tax, while 44 percent opposed the concept. The rest, 9 percent, were undecided. The poll had no specifics about the tax and measured only a small sample of residents or 195 responders.

A good example of how the proposal might work is a tax that is currently in place in Summit County.

In November 2000, Summit voters approved a ballot initiative designed to fund recreational facilities as well as cultural organizations.

The main emphasis of the initiative was, according to those who wanted the measure passed, "to support organizations that enrich the overall quality of life for residents" throughout Summit County.

On July 1, 2001, the Summit started collecting an additional penny on every $10 spent within the county. The distribution of tax monies to grant applicants presently consists of 55 percent to cultural organizations and 45 percent to recreational facilities.

During 2002, Summit's RAP tax raised more than $700,000. All of the money was distributed among organizations and projects deemed qualified for funds by administrative staff, various advisory committees and the Summit County Commission. A total of $393,577 was awarded to cultural organizations, with $322,000 going to recreation.

Summit County has various parameters for use of the tax money.

All projects earmarked to receive revenue from the tax are expected to begin operation within 12 months of the award and to be completed within 18 months.

Funded programs must provide written records of all expenditures as well as a complete, detailed description of the use and its implementation.

The qualification process for obtaining the related revenues in Summit County is administered by a RAP tax recreation committee.

The tax money may be awarded for various reasons, including start-up money and land acquisition; new recreational facilities; capital improvements, service or enhancement of existing facilities; and equipment or maintenance of recreational facilities.

In Summit County, tax funding can only be awarded to state or local government agencies. Committee recommendations are forwarded to the county commission for study and/or approval. The county requires follow-up reports showing how the funds were used.

Should a local tax be approved by voters, Carbon County may follow a similar process for awarding the funds.

"The fact is that it could mean more money for programs in all the cities as well as the county," stated Krompel. "But the people are the ones who will decide whether it will happen or not."

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