Despite a barrage of protests from sheriff's office employees about what they called inadequate funding, the Utah County Commission approved its 1991 budget by a two-to-one vote Wednesday.
Without explanation, Commissioner Sid Sandberg cast the dissenting vote.The budget calls for $18,457,903 in revenues and expenditures in the general fund, an increase of about $879,903 or 5 percent over last year's budget. Commissioner Malcolm Beck said departmental requests totaled more than $20.5 million, and commissioners had a difficult time prioritizing requests.
"I think there has been a concerted effort on the part of the commissioners to not have a tax increase," Commissioner Sid Sandberg said.
"We've tried to respond to the things we think are the major requests," Beck said. "It's not in the best interest of the citizens or in our best interest to start looking at a tax increase at this time."
However, several county officials, most from the sheriff's office, said commissioners had neglected to address the county's needs. They said the budget does not provide for the kinds of services citizens want or expect.
Sheriff Dave Bateman said most of the sheriff's office's $300,000 total increase will pay for expansion of the jail. But he said the commission has failed to consider growth that will take place between the time the jail study is complete and a new jail is constructed. He said the budget does not adequately address the need for increased law enforcement in Utah County.
"I don't mean to be offensive, but I don't think you're doing a very good job of meeting the county's public-safety needs," Bateman told the commission.
Beck responded to Bateman's statement by saying the sheriff's office has received more than $1.7 million in increases over the past two years and that he felt the department had adequate funding to provide public safety.
Bateman said the increases came from consolidating departments and from state and federally mandated revenues.
"I haven't seen any increase to address criminal activity in this county," he said.
Beck said the sheriff's office requested more than $1.5 million in increases and those requests were weighed against the public's concerns and their willingness to support a tax increase.
"They are the ones who pay the bills and they are the ones who demand the services," he said.
Lt. Craig Turner, patrol division commander, said he requested things he feels are essential, not things he hoped for.
"I hear politicians say they want to see a war on drugs and a war on crime, but I don't see it," Turner said.
Patrolman Jim Tracy said the patrol team has remained at 20 members for five years. Lt. Frank Wall said the detective division is understaffed and working extra hours trying to keep up with the workload. He said the division has not pursued misdemeanor cases since July and is limited in its efforts to fight white-collar crime and drugs.
Animal-shelter officials said the county is not addressing its animal-control needs. One person is euthanizing more than 30 animals a day, and it is becoming psychologically stressful for that person, they said.
A 911 operator said calls have increased from 400 a month to more than 2,000 a month. She said there is a shortage of operators and many are working extra hours to meet the demand.
Commissioner Gary Herbert said he supports working together with all departments to see if needs are being met. However, the county likely will have to bond for construction of a new jail within the year, and Herbert said a tax increase would jeopardize that bond getting approval.
"Unless we get public support from citizens at large we are going to have a difficult time raising taxes," he said.
County Auditor Bruce Peacock said state law limits how much the county can receive from property taxes, and the county depends on growth for increased revenues. Redevelopment agencies are taking away much of the revenue that would come from growth. He said it is difficult for the county to keep up with inflation when it has a cap on revenues.
"I think it is an unreasonable expectation to not have a tax increase soon," Peacock said.