Small crowd blasts proposed Salt Lake County tax hike
Including the Boy Scout, all 16 speakers at a public hearing Tuesday objected to tax increases proposed in Salt Lake County's 2013 budget.
"Why can't you live within your means like my family does?" questioned Scout Curren Ellsworth as his family from Sandy looked on, part of a crowd of about 50 residents at the County Government Center to comment on the county's tentatively adopted $785 million budget for 2013.
A second public hearing will take place there at 6 p.m. Thursday. The County Council then will adopt the final budget, which at this point counts on a 16.2 percent property tax increase to support the delivery of countywide services, and a slightly larger hike in taxes dedicated to the County Library System.
For the owner of a $238,000 residence, the median value in the county, those increases would amount to about $77 total a year $59 in additional countywide taxes plus another $18 for the library.
The Republican-majority council still could cut some money out of the budget Thursday evening. But in more than 20 hours of scrutinizing Mayor Peter Corroon's proposed budget since it was unveiled Nov. 8, the council reduced the budget by just $2.5 million primarily at the expense of county employees, who will not get back all of the benefits they lost in Great Recession cutbacks.
None of the county's 3,600-plus employees spoke up against the council's earlier decision to trim their compensation package.
But the employees received little sympathy from the 16 speakers who complained about the budget and its proposed tax increase.
Bob Clark from Draper and Holladay's Bill Hoggan both said government employees already enjoy better pay and benefits than the private sector and that it's wrong to turn now to the public to prop them up even more.
Corroon was chastised by a couple of speakers for holding off on his proposed tax increase until two days after the general election, which included a vote for a $47 million bond to expand the parks system in fast-growing and underserved parts of the county.
"It would have been nice to hear about that before the election before we got suckered into" supporting the bond, said Wells Wagner of Bluffdale. "I know you don't really give a rip what we say, but just know there's a lot of [angry] people out there."
A couple of speakers, such as Robert McComas of Olympus Cove, felt the council could avoid a tax increase if it stopped putting so much money into projects such as the Utah Performing Arts Center, the mega-theater the county is helping Salt Lake City to build downtown.
Others didn't point to any specific cuts, but just wanted to see the tax increase whittled down or eliminated.
"You guys are smart people," said Shelly Reed of Salt Lake City. "You can figure out something so you don't have to raise taxes in a time of recession."
Added David Lundgren of West Jordan: "You were voted into office to manage taxes effectively. If you're not up to the challenge, we need to elect more efficient leaders."
Steve Van Maren, a Sandy resident who regularly attends council meetings and observed the whole budget process, said he was disappointed county officials let the financial problem build to a point in which an increase of this size was needed.
But he also said the county should invest more money in technology.
Encouraging more privatization of services, Royce Van Tassell of the Utah Taxpayers Association said that "with the fiscal cliff looming and uncertainty in the minds of taxpayers, it's difficult to understand why elected officials would put additional burdens on the backs of taxpayers."