by Terri Winder
I received my San Juan County property tax payment coupon booklet in the mail the other day. When I opened it, I was surprised to read that our house is in the Blanding Cemetery District.
Well, that’s appropriate, considering I feel like we’re being taxed to death. It reminded me of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.”
Someone else added, “Death and taxes may be certain, but we don’t have to die every year.”
Thanks to my prepayment plan, I get to die in increments, on the first day of every month.
Don’t get me wrong; from my youth, my father taught me that a good citizen willingly pays taxes and I believe that. To a point. Unfortunately, I also believe that the property owners in San Juan County are now well past that point.
One has to remember that the first definition of the word tax is “a strain or heavy demand”. The second definition is “money paid to the government”. In this case, the second definition rests firmly on the foundation of the first.
And how heavy is the demand in San Juan County? I went to tax_rates.org and what I found literally left me feeling weak—or strained—depending on one’s definition.
It’s no secret that we live in not only the largest, but the poorest county—according to general population income—in Utah. After paying our property taxes we are poorer still, as we also garner the distinction of having the highest property tax rate in the state.
In other areas of Utah, adjoining counties are equitable in their rates. For instance, in both Iron and Washington Counties, the estimated 2013 taxes on a $150,000 property are $765.00.
In comparison, taxes on a $150,000 property in San Juan County would be $1,260.00. Move that the same property across the county line, to Grand County, and your tax bill will be $836.00. That’s pretty easy math: our property taxes are 50 percent more our neighbors to the north.
Our neighbor to the west, Wayne County, expects $510 in taxes on the same assessment. We pay the highest rate in the state, they pay the lowest. The average tax for the state of Utah on a $150,000 property is $900. (It wouldn’t be so high if they didn’t have to include San Juan.)
I once read that people who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women. This may be because, as Mortimer Caplan said, “There is a difference between a tax collector and a taxidermist -- the taxidermist leaves the hide.”
Over the past several years I have read with interest Letters to the Editor and columns in the San Juan Record concerning our property tax rate. It has been explained, but I still don’t understand why we pay so much. I do understand the cost, though, beyond the tax rate.
When my grown children come home for a visit and they go shopping at the grocery store, they ask me, “How can you afford to pay such high grocery prices? Do you know what we pay for milk?” They are also incredulous about our gas prices. If they saw my utility bill they would be shocked. I know, I’ve once saw my daughter’s.
She lives “up north” where so many of San Juan County’s born and raised children do, because that’s where they can find jobs. It’s also where they pay reasonable taxes. There is a correlation between the two.
Years ago, my Grandpa Barton told me the reason people still live in Monticello is because they move there and then they can’t afford to move away. He meant it as a joke, but it’s too true to be funny anymore.
In my own mind, the only way I can feel good about it is—instead of calling it a property tax—thinking of it as a “contribution”. I am willing to contribute to the well-being of the county I love to call home.
However, when Juliet asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” could be rephrased in San Juan County as, “That which we call an unreasonably high tax by any other name still stinks.”
By the way, as I went to mail my first payment, the county generated coupon was too big to fit in a regular sized envelope, so I had to trim off the top before tucking it in alongside my check. If only cutting taxes could be so simple.