Four of the five Salt Lake County cities hearing from concerned residents Tuesday night chose to go forward with property-tax increases.
West Jordan was the lone city to turn back on its proposed increase, which could have brought $3 million to city coffers. The slim majority of City Council members who voted to keep taxes at the 0.001801 rate said the city wasn't in enough of an emergency to ask for more money. The council members in favor of the increase said if taxes aren't raised this year, they'll need to be raised even more in subsequent years.
Property taxes in the city were last increased in 1988, said city spokeswoman Kim Wells.
Several residents expressed their opposition to the tax increase during a public hearing before the vote. They suggested the city forgo building a public library for now and instead use a slated $3 million to maintain services at the current level.
A volunteer budget also was submitted by various interested community members.
"We were able to trim the budget by nearly $2 million without affecting vital departments," said Clyde Killpack, chair of the volunteer budget committee.
Other community members said that due to a slumping economy residents cannot afford to pay more in property taxes.
"When the people are hurting, you don't raise taxes. When the city of West Jordan thinks of raising taxes it is very offensive and thoughtless to me," said city resident Jamie Bellowheimer. "Curb all expenses that are not absolutely necessary."
Other city residents were in favor of the proposed tax increase. The police department, fire department and city roads need improvements that would only be made possible through a tax increase, they said.
At the end of the hearing, Mayor David Newton made a motion to leave the budget at its current rate to resounding applause. The motion passed in a 4-3 vote.
Riverton, Midvale, West Valley City and Salt Lake City councils voted to increase property taxes Tuesday.
Riverton saw the biggest percentage increase at 204 percent. Taxes there increased about $64 annually on a $250,000 home. About 70 residents attended a two-hour public hearing, and dozens made comments about the proposed budget. The audience was nearly split on the question of raising taxes, but the council voted unanimously for the increase.
Mary Quawson-Sackey, a Riverton stay-at-home mom, spoke in favor of the proposal.
"The community is the embodiment of the people who live here," she said. "We are willing to go without other things to keep the services that we have now. To take away funding is to take away the memories of what Riverton is."
Other residents said they felt surrounded by socialists and that the city should cut almost all its services. Others still said they were having to cut family budgets and the city should strive to do the same.
Midvale on Tuesday night enacted a tax increase of about 12 percent, but its increase to the average home was just more than half that of Riverton's, at $35. The city is grappling with decreasing sales-tax revenues and has yet to receive income from a large, transit-oriented housing and retail project on formerly toxic soil.
West Valley City's elected leaders took a middle road on the city's proposed tax increase, choosing to fund the budget shortfall. The city had considered a proposed 11.6 percent increase. It chose to fund about $1.1 million of its shortfall through a rainy-day fund.
West Valley is being forced by the courts to refund a few businesses in the city the $1.1 million, said Aaron Crim, city communications manager. It also is struggling with decreases in private property valuations and wants to increase some services.
West Valley will have to resubmit its budget to the county to get a final percentage increase and budget total, Crim said.
Salt Lake City also went through a state-mandated truth-in-taxation hearing Tuesday night, although the city's 2008-09 budget was approved without a tax increase.
State law required the hearing because city officials began the budget process using the previous year's property-tax revenue as its expected revenue for 2008. Revenue generated by the city from property taxes was $2.1 million higher than budgeted the previous year.
For the city to maintain the $46.6 million in property-tax revenue from 2007, its tax levy needed to exceed the state-certified rate.In addition to the municipalities, several organizations such as the water districts, school districts and special service districts have voted to increase property taxes. Each organization was required to hold a series of well-advertised public hearings.