ST. GEORGE, UTAH – Washington County voters will have the opportunity this fall to decide if they want to see a sales tax increase in order to fund local arts and recreation programs.
During its meeting Tuesday, the Washington County Commission approved posing the question on November’s ballot, framing an initiative similar to the Recreation Arts and Park Tax established by Cedar City in 2005 to help fund cultural and outdoor projects.
The county’s RAP tax proposal would add the equivalent of a penny to every $10 of existing sales taxes countywide to generate funds specifically earmarked for uses such as athletic fields, parks, playgrounds, gymnasiums, swimming pools, campgrounds and trails.
Commissioners estimated the tax increase would generate about $2 million yearly for arts and recreation, if voters decide to approve it.
Commissioner Alan Gardner estimated about a third of sales taxes are paid by people visiting the region.
“We’re putting this forward to the citizens to vote on. We’re staying fairly neutral,” Commissioner Victor Iverson said. “But I do believe that if the citizens choose this, it’s better to do it countywide than city by city. It would benefit a larger segment of the population.”
Washington County Arts Council Chairwoman Kim Konikow said council members have visited the town and city councils throughout the county during recent months to request a resolution in support of the tax proposal, and estimated about three-quarters of them have responded in favor of the initiative.
“What they realized was that … (the county) set up what each community was going to get,” Konikow said. “Each community is going to get funding based on a combination of sales tax and population (criteria). … We are definitely hoping people will sign on for it. It’s critical that this be countywide and not just for any one place. It’s being allocated in a very fair manner.”
Konikow said the cities would use their share of the funds for parks and recreation improvements, and could even use the funds to bond for future developments.
The county would also hold a percentage of RAP tax revenues in reserve for unincorporated areas and for cultural institutions.
“A major part of our economy here in Washington County are these recreational activities,” Commissioner James Eardley said. “It draws a lot of folks into the county, and fills our hotels and restaurants and so on. It provides for a lot of employment throughout the county.”
Deputy County Attorney Eric Clarke said the initiative process is similar to an election bond process.
The county will hold a public hearing in September, then publish argument statements in favor of the initiative and in opposition to the initiative for voters to choose from.
Another public hearing will take place in October as part of the County Commission meeting, and if the question receives a majority approval in November, the commission will decide whether it intends to proceed.
The arts council asked the county’s municipalities to support a similar proposal in 2012, but the initiative was tabled before it ever reached the election ballot.
“There was a recession. We felt that it was wrong at that particular time,” Konikow said, adding that the commissioners decided not to put the issue on the ballot.
At the time, the arts council also anticipated that a portion of the RAP tax funds would be used to build a new performing arts center in the St. George area, but Konikow said Wednesday that the arts center idea hasn’t been discussed “in a long time.”
“I suspect it may come up in the future. It would more likely be something St. George would do and in conjunction with the county,” she said.
-- The Spectrum