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A Q&A with Councilmembers about potentially raising property taxes

Jul 20, 2018 01:31PM ● Published by City Journals Staff

Councilmembers will decide in an Aug. 14 public Truth in Taxation meeting whether there will be a property tax increase.

By Erin Dixon | erin@mycityjournals.com 

Council members give their ideas about raising or maintaining taxes for the current fiscal year 2018 to 2019. This past June, they adopted a tentative budget, but many members saw a need to raise taxes to fund public safety, which is fire and police.

Councilmember Alan Anderson 

“The city council is proposing a 20 percent tax increase, primarily to fund police and fire: five new officers, nine new firefighters. I am supportive of it. The smaller crimes are decreasing, the traffic offenses are decreasing, and we’re getting into more drug offenses, more domestic violence; we’ve seen a number of shootings in the city. I see this as a necessary adjustment to continue to keep our West Jordan safe. 

“In Utah there isn’t any way a candidate could ever say ‘I will never raise your taxes’ because your benefits go up. People want raises so you can keep them. Electric bills go up, gas goes up, we have to pay electricity on all the buildings, we don’t get free electricity. 

“We generate about $11 million dollars in property tax, and we generate about $19 million dollars in sales tax. And that’s pretty much our expenses for police and fire.” 

“You could compare it to an HOA. With that tax or fee, I have access to 24/7 police, to fire; I have paved neighborhood roads with stop signs. I have inspectors that will inspect my house so it doesn’t catch fire when it is built. A resident is receiving benefit for paying taxes. There are people who don’t like paying taxes because you can’t get out of, but our taxes are still fairly low; we’re eighth out of 16 [in the valley], and with the tax increase we stay eight out of 16.” 

“West Jordan has to pay twice for what Salt Lake City did by closing down the Rio Grande. That crowd went out into the community. We’ve seen an uptick in crime over the Jordan River where some of them are living. This past session, the legislature passed HB 462. Now the state is taking some of our sales tax to give to West Valley and South Salt Lake because they are housing a homeless shelter and we are not. So we get the added crime, and we have to pay these cities with the homeless shelters with some of the money that we collect.” 

“We have to make adjustments because the legislature changes things, and they tell us what we have to do. I know people get upset at city councils because we appear to not listen or we appear to be greedy, but it’s the result of changes that are forced upon us by the state.” 

Anderson also said to hire a new officer and outfit them with weapons and car will cost nearly $100,000. City leaders want to hire five new officers, which would cost $500,000 in initial costs, not including future salaries. The nine new firefighters would cost less initially. 

Councilmember Kayleen Whitelock 

“When I look at our budget and what has been done in the past, I see a trend of using reserved funds, or funds that didn’t get spent the [previous] year for ongoing things. Using funds that aren’t ongoing funds for ongoing expenses is a little bit dangerous in my mind. We have some needs in public safety that I feel are truly needs that we need to figure out how to fund. The mechanism that the legislature has given us to fund is through a TNT [truth in taxation] and property tax. I feel like we need to increase our fire and our police, both in manpower and equipment. It’s appropriate use of money, so I’m very hopeful that our staff will bring forward ideas and that we will have another council meeting to discuss ideas.” 

“I’m not in favor of just a blanket increase of property tax without the council having control over where the funds go.” 

Councilmember Dirk Burton 

“I don’t want to raise taxes at this day and time. I’m looking for ways to raise money and cut spending other ways. We’ve got a new economic development director who’s done a fantastic job, and good things are coming that will be providing some benefit for us that won’t cover all our expenses this year, but these things take time. If we can be patient and reduce our expenditures and get some additional money coming in, I think we will be in a lot better shape.

“I think if we could just hold on for a couple more years and work together and concentrate on economic development and make our city more attractive to businesses that will help our tax base. There’s always places in the budget we can clean up. I haven’t given up yet; I think we can clean some things up and still take care of our citizens.”  

Councilmember Zach Jacob 

“I’m not yet sure if a tax increase this year is necessary. I am open to looking at all revenue sources, that is other enterprise funds like utility rates as well. We’re also going to be looking at our fee schedule, like business license fees and other fees that are on there. That all plays into whether we need to raise property taxes or not. 

“That said, I know we’ve got some needs in our public safety and fire department, so we’re going to try to find ways to remain competitive in that labor market. We have a pending fire chief and pending police chief; they are both interim at this point. When those hires happen, we’ll have new leadership that will take a fresh look at their own internal budgets. I think there are some needs in the police and fire department in remaining competitive in the labor markets there. The police labor market and just the labor market in general are being very tight right now. And with unemployment being very low, hanging on to good people is important, and it’s costing more and more.” 

 

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