A city survey currently out is asking Orem residents if they would support a minimal increase in the city’s property tax so the city’s police department can hire more officers.
The online survey for Orem residents is being administered by Y2 Analytics and is asking several questions about the needs of the police force and safety for Orem, and if they would be willing to have between a $5- and $6-per-year city property tax increase to help hire up to three new officers.
There has not been a city property tax increase in 41 years.
Police Chief Gary Giles is already getting one new officer through money allotted from the general fund, and he is hoping for up to three more. The department needs at least nine more officers right now to be at the low average considered appropriate for a city the size of Orem.
“If Orem’s city size were in California I would need 150 officers,” Giles said. Right now he has 91.
Giles does take into consideration the level of crime in Orem, some of the lowest in the nation. He did indicate that crime and traffic accidents are on the rise as the city population grows.
In 2008 there were 88 officers, Giles said. By 2015 it had dropped to 81. In 2018 it had increased again to 91 officers. However, Giles said in that same decade between 2008 and 2018 the city grew by 20,000 residents.
The concerns aren’t just with the residents. Orem is a main corridor in the county for shopping and two universities. The intersection of State Street and the University Parkway alternates between the busiest or second-busiest intersection in the state, according to Giles. Vineyard is also an added concern.
Vineyard has grown at a rapid rate and is now rivaling Lindon in size, according to Giles. With few shopping options, residents most likely do their grocery shopping and other retail business in Orem. That also adds city policing efforts.
His biggest issue with losing officers is not about the pay scale; it is about fatigue — the number of calls each officer must not only respond to, take care of, clean up after, then write a concise report about it, usable in a court of law, before they can go home and start all over the next day.
“I lost six officers last year. We’re in a death cycle,” Giles said. “They are frustrated and overworked.”
The cost to hire an officer with wages, benefits and retirement is about $80,000. Add to that $40,000 of gear, radar and a vehicle and you’re looking at $120,000 per officer, according to Giles.
Giles is also worried that if not checked, and helped, his officers would go from being proactive and trying to help prevent crime to becoming just a “responder” to incidents which is a totally unacceptable approached to policing, in Giles’ opinion.
“If we start spending all of our time reacting to incidents, that’s not something we want,” Giles said. “Our mission statement starts with the words ‘proactively serving’. It’s getting harder and harder to comply with our mission statement.”
The city council is expected to look at the results of the survey at its April 30 work session. According to Steven Downs, city spokesman, the survey was the best they can do as far as getting resident input.
“We are not allowed to put this on the ballot,” Downs said. “The survey is the closest to what we can do under state law.”
Downs said the council is very sensitive to both sides of the issue, needing police and not wanting to raise taxes.
“After 41 years it can’t meet both needs,” Downs said. “With input on the front end (from residents) it will give us the best information to move forward.”
If the council approves a request for a property tax increase, then a Truth and Taxation hearing will be held in August after the July 1 budget has been temporarily approved.