OREM -- Red clipboards circulated through the crowd at a recent hearing over a tax increase in Orem, seeking volunteers to help gather signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to reject the tax increase.
While petition sponsors know it's too late to get it on November's ballot, their real intent is to get the referendum in place. That would freeze the tax increase until a special election can be held in June or the next municipal election in November 2013.
On Monday afternoon Orem resident Wayne Burr filed the official request for a referendum. The five names needed were verified as registered voters. In one week the recorder will have an official petition and packets ready. After that Burr said approximately 250 volunteers will have 25 days to get at least 3,129 signatures of Orem registered voters.
According to city recorder Donna Weaver, legal requirements for a referendum mean it cannot be on the ballot in November.
"We've had people call and say 'we don't care whether you live or die,'" Weaver said. "It's too bad it can't be on this November's ballot, we'll have a better turnout. A special election will cost the city $35,000."
Referendum supporters are fine with that; they will still get a reprieve from the tax.
"We want to freeze it until we can vote on it," Burr said. "We want the people to decide since we're using the people's money. We should have plenty of signatures."
The potential freeze on the tax increase has city officials concerned. "If they get the required signatures based on the last presidential election and the county verifies them, then it goes to a special election or on the next municipal election next November," city manager Bruce Chesnut said. "It would put everything on hold for two budget cycles."
Chesnut added that he would have to cut city services and try to find an additional $3.3 million in the general fund. "It would affect police, fire, parks, streets, library and other services," he said. He said they rarely look at enterprise funds, those that bring in revenues, but one option Chesnut says he has is to look at street lighting.
"As manager I'm looking right now and meeting with management," Chesnut said. "We are entertaining a citizens budget advisory committee. This is going to be a big challenge."
Orem resident Paul Overson says he is meeting with Chesnut Thursday. He will bring a list of names of people who are willing to be on that committee.
"I'm going to give him a list of people and say here's some people wanting to get a call from you. They are willing to look to see ways of creative cutting that heretofore may not have been brought to light."
Overson added, "It's been my experience that when you bring people in with a different set of eyes you will see something that I didn't see." Chesnut notes the tax increase is an average of $4 a month.
Councilman Hans V. Andersen, a proponent and sponsor of the referendum, said he was aware a tax hike was coming as early as a year ago and indicated the city knew the same. "They will tell people this freeze will hurt," Andersen said. "This is my way of saying the voters need to be involved with this. Last year they knew an increase was coming and they didn't tell anybody."
Andersen also is suggesting there are a variety of areas where city administration and department heads could find money without hurting the level of service in the city. He suggested several ideas. The first is to stop paying nearly $1 million on a null contract between Nordstrom, Woodbury Corp. and the city.
"We think it should be used on the shortfall," Burr said. "If they start suspending police they're not working hard enough or willing to listen to suggestions."
Andersen said another idea is cutting the city's match on employees' retirement funds, which could save close to $1 million.