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Crowds turn out to GOP-sponsored town hall property tax conversation

Summit County Republican Chair Karen Ballash introduces the Talkin' Tax Town Hall on Wednesday, September 14.
Summit County Republican Party Chair Karen Ballash introduces the Talkin' Tax Valuations Town Hall on Wednesday, September 14.

The Talkin' Tax Valuations Town Hall held Wednesday at the Jim Santy was a forum to question Republican candidates on Utah tax policy.

The Town Hall wasn't advertised as a Republican campaign event, but rather a chance to discuss public concerns over this year's property tax increases. It was organized by the Summit County Republicans, though, and all speakers were Republican candidates for office.

Holly McClure is running for Summit County Council Seat D, and John "Jack" Murphy for Seat E. District 26 State Senator Ron Winterton and Representative Mike Kohler were also present to answer questions.

Those who commented were universally outraged by increases in their tax bills and what they called the inequitable assessments on property values. In Summit and Wasatch counties and across the state, some property values increased in 2022 while others decreased.

Some speakers called for county elected officials to be jailed, and demanded immediate action from the Summit County Council.

District 59 Representative Mike Kohler explained that the county council lacks the authority to fulfill their requests. He said the county must comply with Utah tax laws, which require assessments on all properties every five years. That means 20 % of properties are reassessed each year.

"The real issue here is our assessments coupled with the idea that our values have gone up so drastically in such a short period of time, leaving the assessors unable to get everybody up to that level so that it can be fair,” Kohler said. “It doesn't really have anything to do with budgets. The budgets go up and down at various levels, but not very much."

Kohler said he wants to change tax law to give the state tax commission more leverage to adjust tax rates and valuations when market forces drastically drive up property values.

He said some tax law changes would require a constitutional amendment. He also wants to limit the impacts such increases have on some older constituents.

"Kera Birkeland, a few others, and myself are working on a law that will protect older citizens so their homes can't be increased over a certain amount," Kohler said. "Many of them are on fixed incomes and don't have the ability to adjust."

 About 10 people gave public comments on their tax bills. John Stafsholt said he's lived in Park City for 30 years and said his tax bill went up 40% this year. He asked for clarification on how full-time versus second homeowners are taxed.

“Deer Valley second homeowners, which is most of it, if they became COVID refugees over the last two years, and we had an influx of that, then if their [tax bill] dropped 45%, are we making up that amount of money?" Stafsholt asked.

He was referring to Utah tax policy that assesses second homeowners at a much higher rate than full-time residents.

According to County Council Member Roger Armstrong, calls for the county council to invalidate tax assessments are not possible.

“And we don't get to go outside that and say, okay, we think that because this is an unprecedented market rise year, that we should do it differently," Armstrong said. "That's not permitted. For those who are calling for the Summit County Council to invalidate this assessment. It's illegal for us to do it.”

Tune in to KPCW's Local News Hour next Tuesday at 8 a.m. when Representative Mike Kohler will join Leslie Thatcher to discuss more details of the Legislature’s tax law initiatives.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.