On May 18, Carbon County commissioners approved this quarter's restaurant tax allocations and established guidelines for future funding requests. The decision comes in the wake of concerns by both commissioners and county residents regarding the restaurant tax board's recommendations last month.
Commissioner Mike Milovich opined that the restaurant tax and its funding process are one of the most contentious areas in county government. The commission hopes that the new policy will help avoid some of the headache associated with tax dollar allocation.
Restaurant tax monies total close to $150,000 annually according to Commissioner Steve Burge. The newly established policy specifies that 80 percent of the taxes collected each year will go toward two primary funding priorities.
Restaurant tax board members recommended that funding requests be prioritized. The first priority is to spend or invest in new attractions or tourism programs that will give tourists a reason to come to Carbon County on at least a regular basis. The second is to invest in infrastructure, marketing and advertising that adds to or generates additional tourism interests in ongoing or already exiting resources. Nine Mile Canyon is one example of this second priority.
The other 20 percent of tax revenue would then be available for a third priority, one-time investments or funding that would be decremented each year. Areas which would fall into this category include programs, events or festivals that would be able to be self sufficient in the future.
Commissioner Mike Milovich expressed his view that the amount given in the third priority areas be capped at 20 percent.
All requests in this third category would need to be made in a January meeting of the tax board. In fairness and in keeping with previous guidelines, the board will take requests this July, but will from then on, only take requests at the beginning of each calendar year will be considered.
The commission approved four funding requests and denied two others. East Carbon's request for $4,450 was reduced to $2,500. The initial request was to pay for sand in the Sunnyside Park and buy canvas tent covers for the annual Community Daze. The money allocated will pay for tent covers only.
A request for $24,400 from Sunnyside was denied. The money would have been used to upgrade electrical systems at Sunnyside Park and to make improvements to comply with American Disabilities Association standards.
The commission expressed a view that Sunnyside should attempt to get a lump sum to make all the upgrades and changes through the CIB board and use restaurant tax to match it.
"The [CIB] board if favorable to mineral-producing counties right now," said Milovich. He went on to explain that the board funded requests totalling $9.5 million recently, and that Sunnyside would likely get a grant if they had the amount matched through another source.
"Your community has changed a great deal," said Burge, referencing the closure of East Carbon High. The commission asked Sunnyside City officials to review whether the infrastructure changes were still a priority, and if so, to establish a more encompassing plan for the future of the park.
"We'd rather you fix it up first class so you don't have to fix it up anymore," said Milovich.
The restaurant tax board had initially recommended that the commission not fund the request which would cover the outstanding costs of fireworks for July 4. Commissioner Bill Krompel expressed his view that the fireworks display is a long-standing tradition in the county and to cut it off may be a poor decision. The commission decided to grant $2,500 to the county for fireworks.
"This is the last year I'll vote for it," said Milovich, noting that prior to the restaurant tax in the county, the fireworks display was funded through alternate sources, and that similar sources should be sought rather than restaurant tax dollars.
The commission funded $2,500 of $7,500 requested by the county fair and rodeo with little discussion.
Commissioners denied a request by an organization in Scofield on the grounds that it was neither made by a government organization nor backed by one, and that there is some reported discord between town officials and that citizen's group. The commission felt that it would not be appropriate to step into the alleged disagreement.
Organizers of the Helper Arts Festival requested $9,000 initially and were granted $7,500. That amount is expected to be reduced in future requests to fund the festival.
Commissioners emphasized throughout the discussion process that they wanted to leverage the tax dollars they have to get the best return off of each investment. Both on Wednesday and in previous meetings, they suggested that one appropriate use would be to develop a trail system for off-road vehicles that ties into the Emery County trail system in the Huntington Canyon area and extends north to Scofield and then east to Nine Mile Canyon before terminating in Sunnyside or East Carbon.