Highland City raises property taxes despite residents' plea for alternatives

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 8 2012 9:40 a.m. MDT

Highland City officials approved a $900,000 property tax increase during a truth-in-taxation hearing Tuesday night in the city council building.

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HIGHLAND — Highland City officials approved a $900,000 property tax increase during a truth-in-taxation hearing Tuesday night in the city council building.

The increase passed with a 3-2 vote. An ammendment was added that gives the tax increase a five year sunset period.

Residents of Highland pleaded for alternatives to the increase, including a more business-friendly attitude from the city in order to broaden the sales tax base.

The $900,000 tax burden on Highland residents could be avoided if the city had a broader tax base, Dick Tincher, a Highland resident, said during the public hearing.

"We need a broader tax base, and the only way to do that is to bring in more businesses," Tincher said.

John Park, Highland city administrator, enouraged Highland residents to shop within the town to increase sales tax revenues.

However, residents said the city isn't business-friendly, and the lack of commerce makes it difficult to spend money within the city.

"You tell us to shop in Highland," Highland resident Janet Wooten told the Highland City Council. "There is no place to shop in Highland. Why do you make it difficult to bring in businesses, but you want us to bear the burden of a tax increase? I can't afford the increase you keep imposing on us."

Highland's tax revenues would have risen/will rise 41 percent from 2007 after passing its $900,000 property tax increase.

A truth-in-taxation hearing is required by the state after a municipality approves a property tax increase. The state also requires certain disclosures before the hearing is held. A final decision is made during the meeting, in which the new tax rate can be reduced or eliminated, but not increased.

Residents in Highland have resisted commercial development in the pursuit of a neighborhood-style city, Scott Smith, a member of the Highland City Council, responded.

Smith voted for the increase, saying that paying for the roads was the fiscally responsible thing to do.

Not all city officials supported the increase in property taxes.

"As a fiscal conservative, I could not vote for the highest percentage tax increase in the history of Highland," said Highland City Council Member Tim Irwin.

Some say the city is spending too much for employees.

David Fairbanks, a resident of Highland, complained the city is spending more for salaries and benefits than other larger cities.

The fire chief of Lone Peak Public Safety makes $95,000, while the fire chief in the City of Terre Haute, Ind., makes only $35,000, Fairbanks said. The city's building inspector makes $80,000, but the City of Nephi's makes $30,000, he said.

Highland's city manager is paid less than others in Lehi, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountin, said council member Smith.

Of the $900,000, $600,000 goes towards reconstruction, while $300,000 is set aside for road maintainance.

Park said $20 million is needed over the next few years to begin needed road reconstruction. The city pays about $975,000 a year in debt payments, he said.

The U.S. economy's recovery isn't guaranteed, said Royce Van Tassell, associate vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association. "Taking money from the residents of your taxpayers is not a good way to keep that recovery going," he said.

City officials laid blame for the added costs on public safety to increase staffing in Cedar Hills and Alpine. Expenses per household in Highland rose by 58.6 percent since 2000 to $2,054.

Highland’s expenses per household have seen a 5.9 percent compound annual growth since 2000 while revenue rose 4.11 percent.This could mean the city’s expenses are growing at a faster pace than its generated revenues.

“Our largest expense since I’ve been in office has probably been our police and fire,” said Highland City Mayor Lynn Ritchie in a phone interview with the Deseret News.

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