Playing catch up
Twenty years of local growth have met the global economic downturn in Utah's fourth largest city. So members of the West Jordan City Council have taken their professional staff's advice and approved a 2013 budget that includes a 17 percent increase in the city's property taxes.
That much of a hike in a single year is no fun, not for the council and not for the city's ever-larger population. But when a city's population skyrockets from 68,000 to 104,000 in 10 years, a long record of managing without any increase in the city's property tax rate has got to come to an end.
All that new growth does, indeed, increase the city's tax base. But not always by enough and sometimes not nearly enough to make up for the increasing demands on the most basic public services. And that, as explained by the city's staff, is what has happened in West Jordan.
Out of the $1.5 million that should flow from the higher property tax, $1.1 million is earmarked for increases in police protection. Eight new patrol officers, one supervisor and an equipment manager are intended to help the city deal with a violent crime rate that has shot up 51 percent in just the past year.
Officials are rightly worried that increases in property crime, gang activity and graffiti are making it difficult for the city's over-stretched police department to respond to calls for assistance. Unaddressed, such a situation can lead to a violent spiral as West Jordan develops a reputation as a place where criminals can operate unmolested.
City Manager Rick Davis stresses that the proceeds from the city's tax hike are going to what all will see as basic municipal services: public safety, road repairs, upgrades to the city's vehicle fleet and the burden of public and private operations everywhere computer software upgrades.
"We're all meat and potatoes around here," Davis told The Salt Lake Tribune recently, "and no glitz."
But even meat and potatoes cost money. The proposed hike figures out to $41 a year for the owner of a home valued at $220,000. Not much by itself, really. But it is another burden to families trying to keep up with higher costs and because they are in the same boat with their city government a sluggish economy that often leaves households, businesses and governments with fewer options and tougher decisions.
The city has until Aug. 17 to finalize its budget and file all the paperwork with the state. Until then, the council is set to hear from the public through a series of six public hearings. Anyone who has a better idea on what the city should do should show up at one of those.