In August 2018, the city of Cedar Hills announced it would be leaving the Lone Peak Fire District, which serves Alpine, Highland and Cedar Hills. That decision goes into effect on July 1 of this year.
This month, Alpine and Highland will vote on city budgets that require an increase to cover the fire district costs that used to fall on all three cities, as well as additional funding to raise the starting wage of Lone Peak police officers, among other costs. Because Alpine is significantly smaller than Highland, the cost share would be split 35/65, according to Alpine Mayor Troy Stout.
According to the Highland website, the city needs to raise an additional $701,000 per year for the Lone Peak Public Safety District. Charmayne Warnock, the Alpine city recorder, said in an email Alpine needs to raise $423,633.
Alpine proposes the funds come from a property tax increase. According to Stout, it’s really the only place the additional funds can come from, unless they want to reduce emergency services.
“What is our tolerance, or what is our expectation for public safety, for response times, for the quality of officers and firemen that we hire, for all the various things that we kind of take for granted on a daily basis?” Stout asked in a special public meeting last Thursday, where residents could comment on the budget proposal. “I think at some point we’re forced to ask ourselves the question of, ‘what is it worth to me, to maintain a higher standard?’”
Nobody, Stout said, wants to be the victim of a heart attack, a house fire or another kind of disaster when response times are longer because emergency services have been reduced. Erin Wells, the assistant city manager for Highland, said the funds are also important to help recruit and retain police officers.
“What we’re asking for is to be able to provide the same level of service we do now,” she said.
The Lone Peak Fire and Police create their own budgets which they present to the cities to be voted on. Both Stout and Wells said the police and firefighters actually pared down their budgets quite a bit — Wells said the fire district actually cut their budget by $100,000 — and are asking for $536,000 for fire and $160,000 for police. However, having to share the fire costs between two cities instead of three still means Alpine and Highland will have to pay more.
Highland presented the option to its residents of raising property taxes, or adding a public safety bill to utility fees. Wells said according to new numbers Wednesday, the property tax option would require a 35% increase, equaling out to an extra $11.18 per month per average Highland home, whereas the fee would amount to $12.57 per month, per home.
In public meetings held by Highland on May 22 and May 30, Wells said around 75% of residents were in support of the city budget and favored the idea of a monthly fee, versus raising property taxes. Opposing residents fall into two categories, she said: believing Highland should support a more rural level of service and cut down on public safety, or believing the city should try and find the money somewhere else in the budget.
“If we don’t receive the funding, that means the level of service will decrease,” Well said. “We won’t have as many firefighter EMTs on duty, and we run the risk of not ... recruiting and retaining good police officers.”
Highland will vote next Tuesday on whether or not the city will fund the increase through a fee or a tax. Alpine will vote on their budget proposal June 25. Until then, residents can come to Alpine’s city council meeting on June 18 to hear a presentation from city administrator Shane Sorensen and voice concerns and opinions. At the first special meeting Alpine held, out of seven residents only one was opposed, Stout said.
“Costs and operations have been increasing rapidly over the past few years, and they continue to rise,” Stout said last week. “The reality that we have to face is that tax increase has to be a part of the discussion.”