SARATOGA SPRINGS — Residents defended Mayor Mia Love on Monday against Rep. Jim Matheson's recent assertions that she's to blame for higher taxes and more crime in their growing city.
Standing outside Sean's Smokehouse BBQ & Grill holding signs such as "We're not your punching bag," about 35 people, including former and current City Council members, accused the six-term Democratic congressman of trashing their town. Love did not attend.
"I just get tired of politicians lying about the people that they're going to represent," said Councilman Bud Poduska. "We're in his district and Matheson is lying about the state of our city."
Matheson has repeatedly pointed out during the heated 4th Congressional District race that Love, a Republican, has raised property taxes as a city councilwoman and mayor. He reiterated that during a news conference Monday, saying she voted for increases three times, including a whopping 116 percent in 2008.
"I just think that the rhetoric is all about 'I want lower taxes,' but if you look at the record it's something different," Matheson said. "We need to get away from superficial rhetoric and look at actual facts and in this case I think Utah taxpayers are going to agree with me."
Sean's BBQ owner Sean Warren isn't one of them.
"It really hurts my feelings when I come in and find how bad people want to trash the city in the name of politics. It makes the city look bad and it makes the businesses look bad," the Florida transplant said.
Saratoga Springs operated on a county tax rate for the first several years after its incorporation in 1997. The city grew rapidly until the housing market crash brought development to a halt in 2008, leaving it without revenue for basic services. The council, including Love, approved a 116 percent increase mostly to pay for police and fire protection and laid off 18 people. It was the first property tax increase in the city's history.
Matheson also criticized Love for raising taxes 21 percent in 2009 and 13 percent in 2010, the year she became mayor.
Poduska said Utah County set those rates per truth-in-taxation laws that allow cities to maintain the same level of tax revenue from year to year. He conceded the city could have rejected the rates and cut services instead.
Council members also pointed out that as mayor, Love does not have a vote on matters before the body.
Either way, Matheson said Love has a record of supporting tax increases.
"We have her on video in her own words saying we should raise taxes a little bit each year," he said.
Councilman Mike McOmber said Love continually works to keep taxes and city spending down, including arguing against a pay raise that bumped her mayoral salary from $600 to $830 a month.
Earlier this month, Matheson said Love wanted to cut the police budget by $54,000 in 2008-09 and that burglaries went up 382 percent that year. According to the city, the council actually allocated $50,000 more for the police and burglaries rose from a total of 30 to 54.
Matheson said Monday his figures were incorrect. Still, he said the overall crime rate in Saratoga Springs has risen, and he questions Love's priority for public safety.
"They maintained the fund for employee appreciation gifts, for plaques and paperweights, but she was telling the police to cut their budget during a time when crime was going up," Matheson said.
McComber said "petty" crime has increased in the city but that's to be expected in a community that has swelled to 20,000 residents. Even so, the crime rate is among the lowest in the county.
According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, 12.9 crimes were committed per 1,000 residents in Saratoga Springs in 2010, making it third lowest among Utah County cities. The county average was 23.1.
"It just makes me livid that Jim Matheson is willing to throw my city under the bus to get elected," said resident Anne Harrison. "How can he represent me if he's tearing my city down?"
Center Forward, a self-described centrist PAC airing anti-Love ads, described crime in Saratoga Springs as "skyrocketing" in a recent spot.
"There's a lot of false information out there and we're going to be able to clear all of that up," Love said in an interview last week. "You can't get away with these things. They come back. They're going to have to answer (for) some of those."