Salt Lake County Council scrutinizes water districts over proposed property tax hikes

Jul 20, 2023, 8:00 AM

Sprinklers water a lawn in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)...

Sprinklers water a lawn in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education, and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake.

SALT LAKE CITY — Two of Utah’s biggest water districts are proposing small property tax increases as they deal with growth and ensuring a safe, clean water supply.

On Tuesday, the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District informed the Salt Lake County Council it was proposing a property tax increase.

“It’s an $8.90 increase on an average residential property,” the district’s board chair, Corey Rushton, told council members.

The district justified it as necessary, having built a new water treatment plant in Herriman where new neighborhoods are already popping up and ongoing needs for the water system.

“We do our job best when you turn the water on and it’s there and it’s clean,” Rushton told FOX 13 News afterward. “So this keeps the water flowing but it also has an eye towards the future.”

But council members pushed back with questions about conservation and how the water district spends the money it already has. The Central Utah Water Conservancy District went before the council last week with its own proposed property tax increase (roughly $3.78) and some council members argue that water districts have raised taxes steadily over the years.

“There are obviously concerns when entities want to raise taxes year over year,” Salt Lake County Council Chair Aimee Winder Newton said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council members pressed Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District over getting water into the Great Salt Lake and whether they ought to lean more into a “user fee” for high water users to force conservation instead of property taxes, which covers the bulk of water use.

“I just struggle with increasing property taxes at a time when so many Salt Lake County residents are struggling with cost of living and we know some of the highest water users are paying the cheapest rates in the nation,” Council member Suzanne Harrison said.

Rushton acknowledged no one likes a property tax increase, but they were working to ensure water remains affordable while also funding critical projects to ensure a safe water supply.

Council member Laurie Stringham pushed the district to look closely at how it bonds and budgets.

“You do have a bit of a slush fund to fall back on. I have some concerns over that and I’m not sure that we’re doing the best we can for the people when we don’t look at how we fund things,” she said.

The council isn’t the only group to criticize water districts and their proposed tax increases. The Utah Taxpayers Association has criticized year over year tax increases by some districts and urged the state legislature to adopt more of a “user fee” system to force water conservation. So has the environmental group Utah Rivers Council, which spoke about it at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I know we all care about the Great Salt Lake. We all want to see Great Salt Lake levels rise,” said Zachary Frankel, the Utah Rivers Council’s executive director. “That means we need to make sure the price of water sends a message to consumers — not just homeowners — all kinds of consumers, to use less water.”

Both water districts will hold “truth-in-taxation” hearings where they discuss the proposed increase and take public comment on it. The Central Utah Water Conservancy District has scheduled its hearing for August 21 in Orem; the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District will hold its truth-in-taxation hearing on August 9 at its offices in West Jordan.

The tax increases come at a time when 76 other cities, counties, school districts and other government entities across Utah are proposing property tax increases as they seek to cover costs and deal with infrastructure demands. Rushton told FOX 13 News that they want to keep water rates affordable, while also ensuring funding for infrastructure.

“I think for the most part, people understand the importance and value of water,” he said. “I think we get more of the comments of ‘Yes, you should charge us more’ than ‘You charge us too much.’ I think that with our balanced approach of not trying to do too large of increase per year has served us well.”


We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Utah Drought

People pour water into lake....

Sydnee Gonzalez, KSL.com

A pouring out of love: Utahns gather for Great Salt Lake blessing ceremony

People gathered at the Great Salt Lake this weekend with offerings that represented an outward expression of a love and stewardship of the lake.

59 minutes ago

Salt Lake City's 2023 mayoral candidates, from left to right: community activist Michael Valentine,...

Carter Williams, KSL.com

What Salt Lake City’s mayoral candidates have to say about Great Salt Lake’s future

The three Salt Lake City candidates for Mayor discuss the issues surrounding the Great Salt Lake ahead of the November election.

4 days ago

El Nino could help Utah, but it could hurt Utah, KSL Meteorologist says....

Adam Small and Derrick Jones

Will El Niño bring snow to Utah this winter? KSL Meteorologist says, maybe

With a lot of excitement about El Nino, and coming off last year's historic winter, many Utahns are hopeful.

6 days ago

Image of jetskiers on Pineview Reservoir in Weber County in August, 2023. As the end of Utah's wate...

Don Brinkerhoff

As water year ends, reservoirs around Utah are in a “good place”

As the water year comes to an end in Utah, reservoirs are at 77% capacity, which is an increase of 27% from normal.

6 days ago

Officials in Washington County say measures are being taken to ensure water use meets the future gr...

Emma Keddington

Official: Water use will meet future needs in Washington County

Officials in Washington County say steps are being taken to make sure water needs meet the future growth of the county.

11 days ago

Image of the shoreline of Great Salt Lake, a body of water in Utah to which actor Leonardo DiCaprio...

Adam Small

Leonardo DiCaprio speaks up for Great Salt Lake

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio used his platform Monday to promote a petition aimed at lawmakers better helping Great Salt Lake.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Salt Lake County Council scrutinizes water districts over proposed property tax hikes