KAYSVILLE — A storm raged both inside and outside city hall on Aug. 12, as residents took the Kaysville City Council to task for a proposed tax increase.
Wind lashed the windows and lightning was followed quickly by thunder, as angry residents lined up over several hours to lash out at city leaders for proposing a 99.6 percent increase in city property taxes, an increase the council approved on a 4-1 vote the following Thursday.
The attacks became personal as residents not only challenged the need for the increase, but threw insults at City Manager John Thacker and criticized members of the city’s police force for attending the meeting.
Despite repeated requests from Mayor Steve Hiatt and council members to refrain from applause that might intimidate people with alternate views at the Truth in Taxation hearing, the audience regularly erupted at the conclusion of speeches against the increase.
Among the hot issues were the police station now under construction, whether or not new police and fire officers are needed, and whether or not Proposition 5 – a citizen initiative passed last November – was to blame for the tax increase.
Views were expressed from all sides:
Dave Hanson said the city is making a mistake with its “police palace.”
Don Davies called the building under construction a “monstrosity at the end of the block,” and said employees that want raises should just go to another city.
“I implore you to make a sacrifice,” said Davies. “You’re asking us to make a sacrifice.”
Ben Horne expressed an opposing view when he said the police department can’t police “out of a trailer park,” as was necessary before construction of the new station began.
He placed blame for the city’s current financial situation on the passage of Proposition 5.
“When Prop 5 was presented, nobody had any idea what would happen,” he said. “To take pot shots at these people that we voted in – I don’t think that’s professional. To me this is a Prop 5 issue and the shame is not enough people came and voted it down.”
In a letter from Art Morley, Carson Robin read his view that Prop 5 “closed the city slush fund jar.” The measure prohibited the city from transferring funds from its electric utility enterprise to the general fund.
Rob Danzie said Prop 5 is not the problem. He said the solution to the budget problems would be to pay $65,000 for a city manager.
The position now pays $109, 574, and like other employee salaries, would rise 1.5 percent for cost of living and potentially 4.5 percent for merit.
“Increasing taxes is not always the way,” said Danzie.
Janice Legler read a letter from her husband, Paul, who said there is no need to give salary increases to “leadership we are in no danger of losing.”
Many residents expressed opposing views and spoke in support of the council and its proposal, which would mean a tax bill $143 larger this year than last, for a house valued at $286,000.
Tammy Wursten said that making only the second tax increase in 25 years is not extravagant.
Dixie Hill supported the city. You’re building for now and for the future,” she said. “Go ahead and do the brave thing.”
Because Kaysville is a bedroom community and doesn’t have the malls or box stores of neighboring cities, the city’s main revenue stream comes from property taxes, said Dean Hales in his testimony, and there is “no other way” to fund city needs than property taxes.
Police Chief Sol Oberg spoke at the conclusion of the hearing, expressing anger at the criticisms that had been leveled against his officers, the new station and city leaders.
“We believe in the constitution, we believe in protecting the public and we’re trying to preserve the safety and security of this community,” he said.
His officers serve the community “for almost no money,” he said. “They are not here for the money, yet they do have families they have to provide for and as a city we are responsible to provide basic assurance that we’re training them and that we’ll equip them and that we’ll have a building they can work out of.”
He told the council that they had his “utmost respect.”
“I know the job you do is hard,” he said. “It’s hard for me to sit back knowing all of you and hear some of the pot shots, some of the allegations, some of the things that are just flat out scandalous.”
The council met again two days later, and after reviewing the issues brought up at the hearing, voted to approve the budget. Council member Susan Lee voted against it.
“In my mind one of the things we’re being faced with in this budget is public safety,” said Mark Johnson, also a council member. “We as a council felt a while back that it’s not just for the security of the community but for the security of the officer.”
He pointed out that a house fire doubles in size every minute, and by law fire trucks can’t roll out the door without four firemen on them for their safety. The new budget will allow for more firefighters to be on duty at all times so there will be no wait time between a call and leaving the station.
Lee asked her fellow council members to ask city departments to cut budgets 10 percent across the board, “so that we can not have this hit the citizens so hard.”
Hiatt said department requests were already cut when they were first presented in April or the city would be proposing a 250 percent increase.
“I believe we identified real, serious needs,” he said.
Brett Garlick, also a city councilman, said this budget “is just barely meeting the needs.” He said he blames previous city councils for not adequately increasing taxes as necessary. Inflation, compounded annually, adds up to 98.6 percent over the past 25 years, he said.
“If all they did was just increased it to keep up with inflation we’d be at exactly what we’re asking for right now,” he said.
“I understand now, after Tuesday, why they didn’t,” he added. “It’s a very painful process.”