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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Funds and Structure of the County Budget

By Office of Township Services

The county organizes its finances using a series of funds, which consist of sums of money set aside for a particular activity, program, or purpose. Salt Lake County has specific funds for most of its functions: for example, one fund is dedicated specifically to the County Library System, while another is dedicated to the Department of Health. There are a number of different types of funds, depending on their structure and purpose.

Governmental funds are those used for most county activities. These funds are dedicated towards services such as flood control, housing services, grant programs, and the aforementioned libraries and health department. One of the most important funds in this category is the Municipal Services Fund, which is used to provide municipal services to the townships of Millcreek, Kearns, Magna, Copperton, Emigration Canyon, and White City, as well as other areas of the unincorporated county. By far the largest governmental fund, however, is the General Fund, which accounts for almost 30% of the county budget. The General Fund is used to pay for everything that isn’t already accounted for in other funds.

The other major types of funds are proprietary funds and fiduciary funds. Proprietary funds are used to maintain programs that don’t operate like public government services. For example, internal service funds are used to provide services to other parts of the county rather than the general public, such as facilities management for county buildings. Enterprise funds are used to run entities that operate like private businesses under the ownership of the county, such as the Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District. Fiduciary funds are held by the county, but come from (and are used for the benefit of) other entities, such as funds provided by the state that are used to assist in state tax collection.

The revenue sources for each fund vary, depending on their purpose and structure. The General Fund is mainly provided for by property taxes, while the ZAP Fund uses a 0.1% sales tax. Business-type programs such as county golf courses are usually paid for through fees, sales, and revenue that they collect themselves. Sometimes funds can overlap: both the General Fund and the Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention Facilities fund help pay for county recreation facilities.

Not all of the money in a certain fund can be spent in a year. The county requires each fund to keep a minimum percentage of their money out of the budget, so that county programs can be prepared for every eventuality. 10% of the general fund and 5% of most other funds are kept in reserve in case of emergency, economic downturn, or revenue declines. This fiscal responsibility helps the county maintain a AAA bond rating.

This financial structure is integral to ensuring that the county is responsible with its money.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Where does Salt Lake County get funding?

By SLCO Township Services

Last month Mayor Ben McAdams submitted his 2015 budget proposal. As each step of the budgeting process moves forward, this week we’ll be discussing where the county’s income comes from.

The county’s main source of funding is property taxes, levied on land, buildings, and some forms of private property (such as business equipment or construction machinery) owned throughout the valley. The county assessor keeps careful records of these properties and their value in order to determine taxable value for each property owner. In June of each year, the County Council adopts tax rates and the County Treasurer bills and collects property taxes.  These funds are then used for county programs such as the health department, economic development projects, infrastructure creation and maintenance, or the administration of county government.

The county government isn’t the only entity that receives funding from property taxes; school districts, and city governments, also levy taxes on property. The Treasurer is also responsible for collecting taxes for other government entities in Salt Lake County.

Salt Lake County also levies sales taxes, including a 0.1% tax for the Zoos, Arts, and Parks (ZAP) program and a .25% tax that goes into the county’s general fund. This means that for every $10 that is spent within the county, one cent helps to pay for arts, cultural, and recreation programs, while two and a half cents are spent on various county expenses.

Most programs run by the county are not self-sustaining and do rely on tax money to maintain current service levels. Examples include Wheeler Farm, Parks and Recreation, Clark Planetarium, and the Health Department. Many of these programs draw part of their funding from fee revenue, meaning that they don’t have to rely entirely on taxpayers for support.

The 2015 Proposed Budget is structurally balanced and does not feature a tax increase. To help maintain structural balance, the few new requests that were included were funded via re-prioritization.