It’s truth-in-taxation season in Utah, another August and September full of angry residents waving their property tax notices over a podium. They usually say the same thing, all in two-minute speeches: The increase will break them and their fixed income.
Six years ago, I did not really know what a truth-in-taxation hearing was. What I remember about that truth-in-taxation season was that a small fire broke out at a construction site in Orem. Well, it turned out to be small, but construction materials burn quickly. That’s why the Orem Fire Department sent their resources there as quickly as possible. Preventing the fire from spreading and causing harm to others was their most important job that night. They were successful, so I doubt anyone else remembers it.
I remember because my family was a few blocks away calling 911 for a different reason.
When I went into labor that morning with our daughter, I figured I had at least another 18 hours before I needed to go to the hospital, like I did with her sister. Four hours later, our little baby arrived dramatically in the bedroom of our Orem townhouse to two very shocked, panicked, and unprepared parents.
Because Orem’s EMS resources were out on the fire, a police officer came and got our baby crying healthily. Clearly, both she and I were in fine condition. After about 15 minutes the ambulance dispatched from Provo arrived and transported us to the hospital with zero concerns. We rejoiced in a healthy baby and the help of good people.
Two years later, life found me as a local government intern attending my first truth-in-taxation hearing. The long, linear city I worked in had three fire stations but, due to westside growth, emergency response times to the west side of the city had increased to as much as 15 minutes in some areas, well above the industry standard of four minutes. The city was requesting a property tax increase of about $35 dollars a year to build a new fire station.
A man approached the podium in the council chambers and identified himself as an east side resident. He did not want to pay for a fire station on the west side of town. After smashing his fist into the podium, he pointed at the mayor and yelled out, “I am more important than you are!”
He refused to acknowledge that increased response times on the west side would also mean longer response times to the east side. There could be a day in his future in which two emergencies would occur but only one could be responded to first. He might be the more “important” person on that day, but he might not. The fire might be more dangerous than the unexpected birth, but it might not. Things might work out fine, but they might not.
Raising taxes will never be popular but providing those in need with help should be, especially when you might be the person that needs the most help one day. Without pooling our resources, we can’t make sure that, when those 911 calls come in, help is ready and there for all those who need it.
Record inflation truly has been crippling for Utah families. We are all experiencing rising costs, including the organizations asking for increased funds to pay the firefighters and police officers they employ.
This year, you may be paying an extra $500 or more in taxes for public safety and teacher salaries. That will definitely feel like a hardship if your car breaks down. If a car accident instead makes you the most important person in the moment, know that my $500 dollars is there for you to use. I can’t buy an ambulance for myself, but together, we can all be important when our turn comes up. Emergencies – and babies! – come whether we are ready or not.
Katie Olson is the associate director of strategy and budget for the city of South Jordan and a candidate for the Utah State House of Representatives. She received her master’s in public administration from Brigham Young University in 2019. You can find more about her love of family, the fire service and first-class cities at votekatieolson.com.