Pleasant Grove citizens gathering signatures to put property tax increase on ballot
After Pleasant Grove approved a property tax increase last month, residents who are opposed are now collecting signatures to place the issue on the ballot for a vote.
On Aug. 1, the City Council unanimously approved a property tax increase of 14.8%, or $56.64 a year, on the average-valued home.
Scott Darrington, Pleasant Grove city manager, said the revenue will be used to fund the new Cook Family Park, a full-time firefighter position, increase police salaries and add an additional library employee. The new taxes will bring in an additional $733,171 per year.
“It’s not that we’re are against more salaries for police and fire,” said John St. Clair, a Pleasant Grove citizen who started the signature-gathering effort. “It’s that we want people to have a chance to vote on it, and we think they should have a chance to vote on it.”
Darrington said the city has been losing experienced police officers to other agencies due to Pleasant Grove not having competitive enough wages.
“We were losing experienced officers to other agencies, and then we ended up replacing them with new officers,” he said. “It’s in our best interest as a city to retain those with experience because that’s helpful for our ability to provide public safety.”
In discussing the park, St. Clair said that for large projects like this, the city could build in phases to avoid a tax hike and lessen the burden on residents.
“And that’s, I think, part of what upsets people is that they just want to, seem to, do everything all at once and just increase the taxes to do that,” he said.
The park will cost a total of $15 million, according to Darrington, with $5 million coming from donations, $5 million from existing city funds and the remaining $5 million from the new tax revenue.
The groundbreaking for the park occurred just a day after the City Council met and approved the tax increase. St. Clair said he believed that showed advanced planning on the city’s part but with little effort to notify the public.
“It was very apparent that the city had already made up their mind of the direction they wanted to go,” said St. Clair, who attended the public meeting on the issue. “While we had a chance to speak our thoughts, it seemed like it fell on deaf ears.”
Last year, the City Council approved a 20% increase on property taxes for the average home, about $54 a year. Darrington said before 2022, the council hadn’t increased property taxes in 35 years.
The increase in 2022 allowed for two full-time firefighter positions, two new police officers and $250,000 for road maintenance, he added.
Looking at the last two years, Darrington said the combined increase adds to just under an additional $10 monthly in property taxes on average.
“So for under $10 a month, over the two years, the residents are receiving two new police officers, three new firefighters, a new librarian,” he said. “They’re getting enhanced police wages to retain police officers and a $15 million park.”
Darrington shared concerns that, because the city has already committed the funds, repealing the decision would lead to reallocating money from other places, such as away from public safety and road maintenance.
To get a local referendum on the ballot, supporters will need to gather signatures from 10% of the registered voters in the city, and according to City Attorney Christine Peterson, that adds up to 2,025 signatures.
Signatures need to come from three of the four voter participation areas in the city and organizers have until Oct. 16 to gather enough support in order to have it placed on the ballot for a vote.
“There’ll be people that will sign readily because they want to have a chance to vote on it,” St. Clair said. “There probably will be some people who will sign that will actually vote in favor of it and that’s great, too. We just think everyone should have a chance to express their voice and have a vote on the matter.”
If organizers successfully gather enough signatures, Pleasant Grove residents will vote for or against the tax increase during the Nov. 21 general election.
St. Clair said they will start collecting signatures next week and are in the process of developing a website where residents can find information.