Helping State's Homeless Could Cost Utah Cities

Mar 5, 2018

Northern Utah lawmakers hold a final town hall during the 2018 legislative session
Credit Kerry Bringhurst / Utah Public Radio

When Logan City Mayor Holly Daines first learned about House Bill 462 for homeless services she began researching how an annual tax for low-income or homeless programs would impact her city.

“We are watching that bill,” Daines said.

Republican Representative Steve Eliason is sponsoring the bill that would give the state the ability to tax cities that don’t have programs for their homeless population.

“We don’t have any services for them here,” said Logan Republic Representative Ed Redd, a local physician. “When we release them from the hospital we can’t just put them on the street and say you are on your own, so we buy them a bus ticket to Ogden.”

If the bill passes, Logan City estimates residents could end up paying $50,000 annually to the state. Redd says there is a provision in the bill that would give cities a tax credit for services provided through low income housing projects in their respective communities.

“We do a lot of things here,” Redd said. “BRAG (Bear River Association of Governments) does an amazing amount of work getting people into housing. We have a lot of affordable housing, but there a lot of people here we don’t address. I’m not sure how to fund it.”

North Logan Republican Representative Val Potter voted for the bill and says homeless projects along the Wasatch Front are carrying the burden of an increasing problem. He doesn’t think it makes sense for a city like Logan to build a homeless shelter here to avoid paying the tax.

“We have always had the opportunity to pass it to other cities,” Potter said. “The communities in Utah need to realize this is a statewide problem. Everybody needs to step up and do their part. Let’s solve it together.”

Charging a one dollar per resident ‘head tax’ may be less expensive for Logan City than having to find a location for a local service shelter. Mayor Daines isn’t sure if that is the case. She hasn’t had time to study the matter much. That is why she is hoping to have more time to consider the costs and benefits before paying an additional tax.

“Logan City and all other cities do pay into state taxes,” Daines said. “Where there is a surplus this year, would it makes sense to fund this out of state revenues? It is a statewide problem.”

HB462 passed the house last week and appears to be moving quickly through the Senate. On the final Monday of the session the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee passed the bill. Later that day the full senate held a first reading. A second reading and final vote could happen as early as Tuesday.