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Orem residents say no to tax increase, yes to funding first responders

Orem residents voicing concern about a proposed city property tax increase told the City Council at the Truth in Taxation hearing Tuesday that they would not like to see a tax increase, but want police and firefighters to get more pay.

Comments from retired police officers, police and firefighter wives, council candidates and residents all agreed — whether they supported the tax increase or not — that it’s time to support the first responders and keep trained officers from leaving.

The proposed tax increase would be about 7.96%, and is the exact amount the city needs to hire four new police officers. The tax increase is dedicated solely for that purpose.

Gary Giles, Orem’s chief of police, said for an average home valued at $302,000 in Orem, a taxpayer would pay about $1 more a month than they pay now.

In a report released in July by the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Provo-Orem area is No. 12 in the top 50 list of lowest number per capita for police and safety officers. The only other area in Utah on that list is the Ogden-Clearfield area at No. 28.

Resident were concerned that trained and seasoned officers were being lured away by other cities that offer more or bonuses than Orem, like Springville’s new Police Chief Craig Martinez, who was with Orem for many years prior to his promotion.

Gile said the past six officers hired were fresh out of the academy and have “zero experience.” He added that it takes at least six months to train them on the job and for rookies to determine if they will stay in that career.

“My son has been here 11 years and he has had another offer,” said Lisa Wilkey. “When are we going to stop this bullying?”

“We’ve been working on pay increases for the past while,” said Councilman Mark Seastrand. “Just because it’s not in the tax increase, it doesn’t mean we’re not addressing the other issues.”

Mayor Richard Brunst said police and firefighters are leaving in droves.

“We have a 25% turnover rate a year. We can’t sustain that,” Brunst said. “We are not handling this correctly. ... This is an issue we need to address for the safety of our citizens.”

The city council will meet at 6 p.m. on Aug. 27 to finalize the 2019-2020 budget and vote on the tax increase.

Alpine School District kicks off school year with four new schools

Centennial Elementary School’s motto for its first year is “This is Us,” even if the “us” is still a bit of a mystery.

“We don’t know what ‘us’ is,” said Shelley Schroeder, the school’s principal. “We are creating an ‘us.’”

The 2019-20 school year will be a year of discovery for not only Centennial Elementary School, but also for the three new schools opening in the Alpine School District this year.

Joining Centennial Elementary School in Orem as new schools this year are Liberty Hills Elementary School in Lehi, Cedar Valley High School in Eagle Mountain, and Lake Mountain Middle School in Saratoga Springs, which will have students use a blended learning model utilizing online education until students can enter the building in September.

Centennial Elementary School merges Hillcrest and Scera Park elementary schools in a new building on the former site of Scera Park Elementary School, which has been demolished. Hillcrest Elementary School will see students for at least another year as the building hosts Cascade Elementary School’s population while the new Cascade Elementary School is being built.

Centennial Elementary School was named in honor of Orem’s 100-year celebration and as a way to pay homage to the city while moving forward in a new, consolidated building.

The school includes black and white photos of Orem, a timeline of Orem’s history and will include the words “honoring the past, building the future” in the front entry.

Schroeder remembers watching the Scera Park Elementary School get knocked down, and seeing the new school emerge from behind the rubble.

“It was like this beautiful structure just rose out of the dust,” she said. “It gives me chills. I knew it was very symbolic for what we are doing. We are going to rise out of the grief that we just experienced. I know we will.”

The student bodies of both schools sent each other posters and video messages during the last school year to prepare for the merger. The new school has two PTA presidents — one from each former school — and will keep most of the two schools’ traditions. The school will also pilot the district’s new Ready Mathematics program.

Schroeder said the school of 750 will have a positive behavioral support system called the Centennial Culture Club to help students have more contact with teachers other than their own.

Tuesday was the first day of school in the Alpine School District, and the last of Utah County’s three school districts to return to school.

Three of the new schools were built using funds from the district’s 2016 bond. Centennial Elementary School was built with funds from the district’s local building authority.

Evan Cobb, Daily Herald 

From right, Utah County Commissioners Bill Lee, Nathan Ivie, and Tanner Ainge are pictured during the commission meeting at the Utah County Administration Building on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Provo.

Utah County Commission approves accessory apartments for unincorporated county

Accessory dwelling units will now be allowed in unincorporated Utah County after the Utah County Commission unanimously amended the county land ordinance Tuesday morning.

The intent of the ordinance is to create more housing opportunities in unincorporated Utah County for people of differing income levels, according to the ordinance language. It could include renting out someone’s basement, or building a smaller “accessory apartment” on the property.

The ordinance allows a maximum of one such accessory dwelling on a lot or parcel, and it can only be occupied by one family, and must meet state requirements for building, fire and health codes. It can also have a separate utility meter for gas or electrical.

The accessory dwelling units would have a maximum of 1,000 square feet, but could have a unit at more than 1,000 square feet if the homeowner signs an affidavit saying that they would rent it out at a rate that complies with state qualifications for moderate-income housing. Detached accessory dwelling units would have maximum square footage of no more than 40% of the primary dwelling, up to 1,500 square feet.

“The assumption is, everything under 1,000 square feet will qualify by definition, then above that, the owner is signing an affidavit saying they’ll rent it out based on state qualifications,” said Bryce Armstrong, community development director for Utah County.

Deputy Utah County Attorney Robert Moore told the commissioners that would be nearly impossible to enforce, because the county would not have a way to tell if a landlord was staying within the state’s moderate-income guidelines unless a renter came to the county to complain.

“We just don’t have any idea unless someone complains,” Moore said.

All three Utah County commissioners said they were comfortable with the landlord signing the affidavit with the intent, and did not add requirements to the ordinance for the landlord to report what is being charged for rent.

The ordinance had already appeared before the Utah County Planning Commission in July, which recommended approval to the commission.

A housing affordability bill passed by the Utah Legislature during the 2019 session require cities and counties to plan for moderate-income housing, defined in state code as housing for those who earn less than 80% of the median income for the area. One of the state-approved ways to plan for moderate-income housing is to allow for accessory dwelling units.

The commission approved the ordinance, pending review from the Utah County Attorney’s Office.

Alpine holds public hearing to receive input on tax to fund public safety services

Alpine held a public hearing Tuesday night to receive public input on the city’s decision to raise property taxes in order to fund public safety services.

Alpine City Council made the unanimous decision to approve the raising of property taxes on June 25. The proposed tax would be an increase of 32.89% above the 2018 property tax, affecting both residents and businesses.

It became necessary to add more funds to the Alpine city budget — $423,633, to be exact — to continue to pay for public safety services from the Lone Peak Public Safety District, especially after Cedar Hills opted out of being serviced by the Lone Peak Fire District, a decision which went into effect on July 1.

Ahead of Tuesday night’s Truth in Taxation hearing, an incendiary letter was sent to Alpine residents anonymously.

The letter referred to the Cedar Hills decision to be serviced by the American Fork Fire Department. Cedar Hills has been serviced by the American Fork Police Department for years, and Cedar Hills Mayor Jenney Reese confirmed the city felt the decision made sense, fiscally and considering the physical location of the cities. The letter demanded to know why the city wasn’t seeking other options, such as also being serviced by American Fork, a suggestion which Lone Peak Fire Chief Reed Thompson was quick to denounce.

“American Fork has no interest in taking on Alpine City,” he said.

City council members answered questions brought up by the letter such as the American Fork Fire Department question, and a question as to what recommendations the city made to the Lone Peak Public Safety District about reducing the budget. Mayor Troy Stout pointed out many of the questions raised in the anonymous letter had been answered in previous city council meetings.

“We share the burden. We do take the decision very seriously,” he said.

One woman stood up to give her comments and said because the letter was anonymous, she “assumed it was deceitful.” She was entirely for the property tax raise, even suggesting the city council was being still too modest.

“I think that people here are living in a bubble,” she said. “There’s no such thing as something for nothing ... (Alpine) won’t be (a nice community) if we’re going to be such skin flints, if we won’t pay for what we get.”

On the whole, residents who commented were supportive of the tax increase, and many of them took time during their comments to personally thank both Lone Peak Police Chief Brian Gwilliam and Thompson, both of whom gave short presentations explaining what the property tax would fund for both departments.

“There’s been a shrinking pool of qualified police applicants, especially in Utah,” Gwilliam said. Much of the proposed police department budget would go to raise starting wages for officers, and allow the department to offer a 401K plan.

The fire department total costs actually did decrease, and the budget was trimmed, but Alpine simply has to absorb more costs without Cedar Hills sharing the burden, roughly an 80% increase.

After an hour of hearing from residents, many of whom had questions but were satisfied with answers from Stout, Thompson and others, the city council voted unanimously to approve the budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Councilwoman Carla Merrill shared some of the final comments, hammering home a point made by several other in attendance, that Alpine is typically a city very strict with its budget, and that this wasn’t something they could have made a 10-year plan for.

“As much as I hate tax increases, this is something that needs to be done,” she said.