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Salt Lake County gets enough support to enact $58M transportation tax

SANDY — With a narrow vote from Sandy — followed within hours by a vote from Draper — enough cities signaled support to Salt Lake County Tuesday night to implement the $58 million sales tax for transportation that once failed before voters in 2015.

That means Salt Lake County voters may very well begin paying an additional penny for every $4 spent beginning in October.

But there may be a fight brewing to block the tax. Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn's administration is looking into his ability to veto the council's resolution — though it's not clear if he legally can.

And three members of Sandy's council tried their best to kill Sandy's resolution, but in the end, the votes weren't there.

"I really hate this," said Sandy Councilman Chris McCandless while still grappling whether to vote for or against the resolution. "I hate being put in this position."

But McCandless was one of four council members who ultimately voted for the resolution, hoping the tax will help Sandy and other cities across the county address dire road needs that have gone unfunded for years.

A FrontRunner train crosses 9000 South in Draper on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Draper, Sandy and Riverton are considering resolutions to support the 0.25 percent tax hike for transportation, which needs support from cities representing only 11 percent more of the Salt Lake County population to take effect, under the county's ordinance.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A FrontRunner train crosses 9000 South in Draper on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Draper, Sandy and Riverton are considering resolutions to support the 0.25 percent tax hike for transportation, which needs support from cities representing only 11 percent more of the Salt Lake County population to take effect, under the county's ordinance.

People get off a FrontRunner train at the Salt Lake Central Station in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

People get off a FrontRunner train at the Salt Lake Central Station in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

That's despite opposition from three Sandy council members, including Maren Barker, who said she'd "hate to see Sandy vote for something out of fear" that it will "miss out" on transportation funds, even though they'd still have the opportunity to implement the tax themselves in 2020.

The 0.25 percent sales tax hike — once known as Proposition 1 when it was on the ballot — narrowly failed three years ago in Salt Lake County, when voters shot it down 51 percent to 49 percent.

But thanks to SB136, the sweeping transportation bill passed by the Utah Legislature this year, counties were given the power to resurrect the tax to use for road and transit projects.

But in April, the Salt Lake County Council approved an ordinance allowing the tax to automatically take effect if enough cities or towns representing 67 percent of the county's roughly 1.1 million residents adopted resolutions in support of the tax. The ordinance set a deadline of Friday, so this week marks the last opportunity for cities to weigh in.

Up until Tuesday night, cities representing about 56 percent of the county's population supported the tax. Those included Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, South Jordan, Taylorsville, Murray, Millcreek, Midvale, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, the town of Alta, and the metro townships White City, Magna, Kearns, and Emigration.

Copperton township has been the lone city to adopt a resolution opposing the tax hike. Riverton City Council also considered a resolution of support Tuesday night, but it died when it didn't get enough support from council members.

So as of Tuesday, the tax hike needed support from cities representing 11 percent of the county's population.

With Sandy's support — which passed by a narrow vote of 4-3 — city support of the tax hike bumped by nearly 8.5 percent to 64.5 percent. With Draper's 4-1 vote, city support jumped by another 4 percent to about 68.5 percent, surpassing the 67 percent threshold required under the county's ordinance, according to a tally by the Wasatch Front Regional Council.

With that 67 percent threshold met, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton said the tax will "automatically" go into effect, pending notification of the Salt Lake County Clerk to the Utah State Tax Commission, which will begin collecting tax revenue Oct. 1.

"We were really interested to see what the cities wanted in this regard, and I think the cities have spoken," Newton said.

But the question remains of whether Bradburn will fight the Sandy City Council's vote.

A passenger gets off a Utah Transit Authority bus on State Street. in Murray on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Draper, Sandy and Riverton are considering resolutions to support the 0.25 percent tax hike for transportation, which needs support from cities representing only 11 percent more of the Salt Lake County population to take effect, under the county's ordinance.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A passenger gets off a Utah Transit Authority bus on State Street. in Murray on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Draper, Sandy and Riverton are considering resolutions to support the 0.25 percent tax hike for transportation, which needs support from cities representing only 11 percent more of the Salt Lake County population to take effect, under the county's ordinance.

Transportation signs point the way other transit options at the Salt Lake Central Station in Salt Lake City City on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Transportation signs point the way other transit options at the Salt Lake Central Station in Salt Lake City City on Tuesday, June 19, 2018.

Bradburn's deputy mayor, Evelyn Everton, said in a text message after the vote that the mayor "remains opposed" to the tax hike, but it's not clear whether he can veto the resolution.

"We don't know legally if there is any way to veto a resolution," Everton said. "We will have to look into it with our attorney."

As for Draper Mayor Troy Walker, he strongly encouraged the Draper City Council to adopt the resolution. So did House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who attended Tuesday night's council meeting to speak in support of the tax.

"I don't like taxes any more than anyone else does, but I'm a realist, and I know we have to pay for the things we need," Walker said.

Under SB136, once the county implements the tax this year, it can keep 100 percent of its revenue for the first nine months of the tax — or an estimated $40 million — to be used to either pay down transportation debt or to pay for projects of regional significance. After that, the revenue will be split: 40 percent to cities and towns for road projects, 40 percent to the Utah Transit Authority, and 20 percent would be given to the county.

If the county doesn't impose the tax before June 2020, however, individual cities could choose to act on their own — and get a larger share of the money. Cities with transit service would have the option to enact it through a vote of their councils, with 50 percent of its revenue to go directly to cities and 50 percent to UTA.

Now, the County Council will begin creating a process to decide how the county will spend the roughly $40 million from the first nine months of the tax, Newton said, whether it's to pay down some regional transportation project debt or to give funding to cities who apply.