Revenue is down for many cities that have proposed property-tax increases this year, but truth-in-taxation hearings in north Utah County last week brought citizens out in swarms to tell city leaders that times are tough for them, too.
Both Saratoga Springs and American Fork held hearings where residents could voice their opinions before city councils adopt budgets this month that will establish tax rates for the coming year.
Saratoga Springs originally had $3.5 million to make up when the budget process began, but cutbacks in nearly every department of the city, including the elimination of 14 full-time and four part-time positions, helped reduce the shortfall to $1.4 million.
"I know we are probably going to have to bite the bullet and that taxes are going to go up, but I still think there is room to sharpen your pencils," Saratoga Springs resident Larry Roberts told the council during the hearing.
A 163 percent property-tax increase would be needed to come up with that money and would cost the owner of a $250,000 house close to $210 more than last year. But council members noted that the city found a way to cut the increase to 78 percent by using a portion of the water enterprise fund and reducing attorney fees.
Some residents wondered if the tax increase would put them any closer to having services like a library or recreation center.
"Where is our money going to go to? Is it just going to make up for the deficit or are we going to see some of the services these other cities have?" Saratoga Springs resident Sara Merrell said.
The quick answer is no, the increase would simply help bring the city out of the red.
"A lot has been said about us being one of the lowest property tax rates in the county before this, and not that being the lowest is not admirable, but we do need to have a financial structure that works," city manager Ken Leetham said. "We need a revenue stream that avoids spikes in tax and utility rates, that is much more stable." -->
In American Fork, about 50 residents showed up to discuss the 14 percent proposed tax increase that is intended to raise the city's budgeted revenue by 27 percent. The city plans to use the increase to fund three separate items a new library network technician, street repairs and the completion of the Art Dye Trail expected to cost nearly a combined $650,000.
The overwhelming majority of residents on hand for Tuesday's meeting, however, were against a tax increase of any kind, saying that with the current economic situation, a tax increase would only hurt residents. A number stressed to the council the difference between the city's needs and wants and asked the council to consider residents on a fixed income.
"Running a city isn't a whole lot different than running my family," said American Fork resident Phil Collins, who drew applause for his remarks. "When my costs increase and my revenues go down, I can't increase my revenues I can't do that. I can't pull money out of the air."
Resident Hugh Issel called the proposed tax increase ludicrous, telling council members that, according to his calculations, the proposed 14 percent would cap a 246 percent increase in taxes paid to the city since 2005. He said the city was not learning to get by with what it has.
"Look at the many roads in the city and places where we have no sidewalks," Mayor Heber Thompson responded. "And you tell me if we haven't been just getting by."
A home valued at $240,000 would see a tax increase of about $41 per year, or just under $3.50 a month.
Citizens are willing to pay their fair share for services funded by taxes, resident Arlo Shelley said, but the city shouldn't have Cadillac ideas with a Ford income.
"A tax increase is inappropriate at this time under the conditions we live in," he said.