Cities and taxing entities across the valley have, for the past several weeks, hosted Truth in Taxation public hearings for residents and taxpayers to voice their concerns over proposed tax increases for various purposes.
Alpine School District voted to raise property taxes to increase teacher pay, Spanish Fork voted to increase property taxes for a new library, and Payson voted for tax increases for city branding and other city amenities.
We wanted to focus on the decorum and process of two other Truth in Taxation hearings that today, just leave us with a furrowed brow and a head scratched in confusion.
Both Orem and Alpine held Truth in Taxation hearings Tuesday night ahead of a proposed tax increase to improve and enhance public safety services. Orem needs about four new police officers and Alpine needs to foot a significant chunk of the bill for the Lone Peak Public Safety District after Cedar Hills left the special service district — previously shared by Cedar Hills, Alpine and Highland — left to be serviced entirely by American Fork’s fire and police departments.
We completely understand, and frankly agree, in a state that is as fiscally conservative as Utah that taxes should not be increased frivolously or without good cause. We enjoy that Utah is so conscientious with its taxpayer money, as we have opined before.
But we were baffled by the decorum of many Orem and Alpine residents who demanded better city services, but refused to consider a tax increase as a means of improving the amenities and services they desired.
In Alpine, a woman spoke during the public comment section to say, “There’s no such thing as something for nothing.” We completely agree. The citizens of Alpine and Orem cannot expect to have police departments with quality officers without putting their money where their mouths are.
Orem residents would pay about $1 more a month in property taxes should the tax increase be approved next week. Are better police officers and better training not worth the cost of a large soda from Maverik? Or are we so ingrained in our fiscal ideologies of refusing any new taxes that we would rather see our city police departments comprised of rookie cops and too small forces? Because that is what the Orem City Council says is happening to their city right now. The city has a 25% turnover rate within its department and rookie cops take an average of six months to train before they can even handle case assignments.
Orem relies greatly on sales tax revenue as a primary driver, but sales tax revenue fluctuates and ebbs far too often for that to be a sustainable or reliable means of a revenue base. Remember what happened in the Great Recession? Commodity goods were the first thing to go, and sales tax revenues plummeted. Property taxes are, on the other hand, a more reliable revenue stream.
In both Orem and Alpine, city taxpayers complained that city leadership should have planned for and foreseen the need for a tax increase years ago. Regardless of the validity of that argument, which we seriously question, considering the fact that Cedar Hills pulling out of the Lone Peak Public Safety District has left Alpine with an 80% increase in public safety costs, we would hope that taxpayers focus on the future — and the fact that these tax increases are, as proposed to literally protect and serve the cities.
We agree with the city residents that Orem and Alpine are both beautiful cities. Orem is billed as “Family City, U.S.A.” and Alpine is known across the state as a friendly community. Investing in these property tax increases allow these cities to preserve those identities and invites police officers and firefighters who actually want to stay in those cities, rather than just serve their time as a beat cop in another town.
To Orem and Alpine residents, we understand that no one wants to take another hit to the wallet. But as the old idiom goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.