City Flag - Woodland Hills: Stock Photos 01

A Woodland Hills city flag flies in the middle of a roundabout Friday, April 13, 2018, in Woodland Hills. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Dozens of Woodland Hills residents expressed concern to the Woodland Hills City Council Tuesday night over a proposed property tax increase.

Over a hundred people packed into the city council chambers in the city building to express their thoughts on a proposed 22.71% increase in property tax revenue above last year’s, excluding new growth.

Woodland Hills already has some of the highest property tax rates in Utah County, in part because it does not have commercial businesses within the city, meaning property tax is its main form of revenue.

That means the tax on a $537,000 residence would increase from $1,161.91 to $1,425.65 if the budget is approved, a difference of $263.74 per year.

Many commentators asked for better transparency from the city about how the money will be used, and Pray said the city is committed to finding better ways to disseminate information.

Others expressed concern at the money spent by the city on items like the UTOPIA fiber project or two trucks purchased by the city.

After a two and a half hour meeting in which dozens of residents expressed their concerns about fiscal responsibility, city employee benefits and other concerns, the council did not vote on the budget and tax rate. Another public hearing is scheduled in two weeks for 6 p.m. Aug. 27 at the same location for the city to approve the mayor’s proposed budget, which is tied to the property tax increase.

Woodland Hills Mayor Wendy Pray told those in attendance that at least two city council members have told her they won’t pass the city budget as she has submitted it, and that they’ll negotiate and consider the public feedback over the next two weeks before the hearing.

Pray sent out a letter to residents in July, asking them to consider factors like aging infrastructure, mitigation for the Pole Creek/Bald Mountain fire impact, aging snowplows, development failures and increasing employee costs as to why the city was proposing adding $133,000 to the budget.

Pray said she wanted to address some of the reasons for the city’s financial shortages, one of which is two failed developments that the city is now on the hook for financially for unfinished roads, sewer and other services.

A property bond was secured for that development, Pray said, but because that was 15 years ago, inflation has made it so the bond doesn’t cover all the costs.

Another development was signed off on by a city engineer that is no longer employed with the city, Pray said, and now has failing systems. When the city went to call the property bond on that project, they found out a bond had never been secured and was through a title company that was defunct, Pray said.

“The property owners in that area are considered innocent third parties,” Pray said. “The city is responsible and obligated to make that good for them.”

That project was also approved over 10 years ago, Pray said, meaning that no one currently serving on the council had any part in the decision.

Councilmember Paul MacArthur said that inflation has necessitated increases in spending just to maintain roads. Because of that need, MacArthur said he is considering approving the portion of tax increase that would be dedicated to roads, but said he would need to look at the rest of it before deciding how to vote.

MacArthur said he would need a “really strong reason” to approve tax raises.

Pray told the residents in attendance that she understood how they felt.

“If you’re upset, I get it,” Pray said. “I’m upset too. It’s an emotional thing.”

Seven other Utah County entities are holding Truth-in-Taxation hearings this year as well, including Alpine, Alpine School District and Orem.

Payson and Spanish Fork also both increased their tax revenue this year: Spanish Fork to pay for planning for a new library, and Payson for branding and a new phone system.

Katie England covers local government, the environment and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

Katie England covers politics, county government and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

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