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Utah County passes $86 million budget, will explore tax increase next year

December 20, 2017 GMT

The Utah County Commission passed a 2018 budget of approximately $86.2 million Tuesday morning including 3.2 percent raises for county employees.

The commission has grappled for weeks now with how to incorporate a market wage study into this budget cycle, while also granting department requests for things like new equipment or new positions.

Last week, the commission decided to grant county employees a 3.2 percent raise, then use an additional $1 million to help fix the disparity in wages found by the compensation study, which found that some employees were being paid market wages and others were far below market.

The final 2018 budget came to approximately $7.5 million more than the original tentative 2018 budget prepared earlier this year. The county moved $6.7 million from the unassigned fund balance, in order to cover additional costs of increasing salaries, retirement and granting additional department requests.

“I think the biggest budget shortfall we have is employee compensation,” said Commissioner Nathan Ivie. “The market study pointed out we need to make adjustments to keep competent employees paid.”

What happened in the past, Ivie said, is employees haven’t been fairly compensated, putting the county in a quandary.

“Employees are our most important asset,” Ivie said. ”... Employees have been neglected for some time.”

Sheriff Jim Tracy echoed some sentiments that had been vocalized at numerous times throughout this year’s budget period: that previous commissions had “kicked the can down the road” on several budget issues, including raises for employees and certain equipment and new positions.

“I rise from the perspective that the funding we were able to tap into is limited,” Tracy told the commissioners Tuesday. “And will be mostly gone as far as the capability next year, so I think we really need to look at where we are as far as the critical services of the county. We have seen our increase in calls for service, for the need to expand our manpower.”

Tracy said the budget came to a pretty good conclusion this year, but that some manpower needs and requests had been stripped, which he didn’t think could happen again next year.

“I’ve been a conservative all my life, but I’m not a magician, and neither are you,” Tracy said. “And I know that we face some critical needs that will be unfunded next year if we don’t do something about the level of funding and the ability to have adequate funds being raised within the county.”

Though a property tax increase was discussed in 2016 during 2017 budget discussions, the commission ultimately decided not to pursue a tax increase for 2017.

Ivie said a tax increase to increase the county’s revenues will be a topic of discussion in 2018, and he will be facilitating public discussions on the topic. He said that would include a dialogue and conversation as a county including a series of town halls.

“It behooves us to reach out to public, provide them with information and get their feedback on what they think is appropriate,” Ivie said.

Commissioners and elected officials could explain the challenges faced, Ivie said, and get public feedback on desired levels of service compared to current service levels.