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Taylorsville residents decry proposed property tax hike

Published September 14, 2012 9:58 am

Council, mayor criticized for a proposed plan to become part of the Salt Lake Valley Fire Service Area District.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Taylorsville •A day after more than 160 people overflowed a Taylorsville City Council room to voice opposition to another tax increase, Mayor Russ Wall's ears were likely still burning from angry outbursts hurled at him by residents and business owners.

One commenter compared Wall to "a leprechaun with all his bags of gold." Others accused him of emptying their pockets at a time when families don't have money to spare.

But on Thursday, hours after Wednesday's heated meeting, a spokeswoman from Wall's office said there is misunderstanding about proposed property tax increases for fire services. Taylorsville residents are looking at a hike to fund expanded services, but what they might not realize is their city taxes may go down to compensate for the increased fire fees, meaning the overall increase may not be as steep as they anticipate, said Aimee Newton, the city's communications director.

A City Council discussion on how much to reduce the city tax could come as soon as next Wednesday, when council members hope to better explain to residents exactly what they can expect to see overall on their property tax bills.

"So many people were frustrated that they don't have the exact number of what their taxes may be," Newton said Thursday, referring to Wednesday's meeting where city officials heard from riled-up residents upset about a recent 4-1 decision by the council to expand fire services and also become part of the Salt Lake Valley Fire Service Area District.

At Wednesday's public comment hearing about the fire decision, more than 30 residents stepped up to the microphone to voice opposition. The comments sizzled well into the evening.

Among the concerns for residents were fears the city would be giving up its right to the fire district to decide how to tax for fire services. Many residents said the reason they supported incorporation in the first place was to have local control of taxes.

"How Taylorsville City can think or imagine doing this is beyond me," said Brent Garside. "Let's keep the city involved in [the say on taxes] and in control of it."

Joining the fire service district would increase taxes on an average home valued at $197,000 an additional $225 a year and business owners about $410 a year, according to the numbers provided by the fire service district. But that number isn't taking into account what tax increases or decreases Taylorsville City will additionally impose to balance its budget come next June — a point that Newton said is essential to remember.

Others voiced concern about business property taxes going up and having to pass that cost on to their customers or landlords having to charge more to renters.

In June, the council approved the fiscal 2013 budget with a tax increase of 15 percent to fund capital projects and maintain streets.

To oppose the council's decision, the public would need a petition against the move with 10 percent of the city's registered voters signing. Then the issue would go to vote as a ballot initiative. But since the public hearing period continues until Oct. 12, the city attorney said the tax question may not show up on the ballot until the 2013 general election.

Taylorsville isn't paying its fair share for what it's getting, according to Salt Lake Valley Fire Service Area District. The city accounts for 15 percent of all responses by the Unified Fire Authority but contributes only 8 percent to UFA's overall budget. Herriman, Midvale, Riverton and unincorporated Salt Lake County — which are part of UFA — are footing the gap to provide services for Taylorsville. These cities are also members of the fire service district.

By joining the fire service district taxes will go up, but city leaders believe they will go up regardless because of a need for a new fire station and the likelihood of UFA increasing the price for its services when it renews its annual agreement with the city.

Taylorsville city leaders believe by joining the fire service district they will save money on the cost of the new fire station.

The City Council stated it needs a third fire station. If the city became part of the district, the cost of the station and more personnel would be covered under the tax rate, and the city would not need to bond for a $3 million fire station.

"If we taxed you paying a little more than half than the services we are receiving, is that fair?" Wall asked the crowd on Wednesday. "The reason we didn't get [another] fire station when we became a city is because our elected officials were too damn cheap."

Unified Fire Authority Chief Michael Jensen told the residents the city's problem with a hole in coverage on the south of the city and a density and call volume issue will be alleviated by being part of the fire service district.

If Taylorsville opts out of being part of the district, UFA will continue services as usual, but Jensen added after the meeting, "We hope our partners continue to do mutual aid with us." This aid is an agreement where nearby cities will cover for UFA if other agencies are closer.

One resident said the city has outsourced police and other services and all local control has been lost.

"Why don't we outsource the rest of the leadership and be done with it?" she asked.

cimaron@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CimCity