WEST BOUNTIFUL—Things got a little heated at last week’s West Bountiful City Council meeting as members of the audience started throwing barbs back and forth with city officials over a proposed tax increase.
“Do we even know what the city budget is?” asked resident Mark Page during the public hearing. “What are you doing to control expenses? Are you giving reasonable raises? Working people have a struggle to get a pension. My workweek is 60 hours. I don’t think any city employees even work 40 hours.”
Those comments drew the ire of West Bountiful Police Chief Todd Hixon. “We have to balance our hours to cover shifts because our call volume has increased,” he said, “let alone the type of calls coming in. The world is ever changing – we have to adapt. I’ve got guys who haven’t had a day off in weeks because we have to cover shifts.”
“I’m just asking,” shot back Page. “Is the city so comfortable that nobody’s worried about their job? Has anyone lost their job?”
Hixon assured him that the police department has high accountability. “I’ve terminated several people,” he said.
Mayor Ken Romney chimed in stating there were only four people of 26 full-time employees that are still with the city since he took office.
Prior to the public hearing, City Administrator Duane Huffman gave a presentation on the proposed tax increase of approximately $33.82 a year on a $297,000 residence and a $61.48 increase per year on a business of the same value.
Huffman listed the city’s capital needs for the next 10 to 15 years as:
• Water – $4.8 million
• Streets – $6.1 million
• Storm water – $2.3 million
• Public Works Facility – $2 - $4 million
“With the property tax over 10 years we’d get about $1.9 million and over 15 years about $2.9 million,” said Huffman. “It would make a significant dent in the shortfall. Another option is storm water/street fees. But in our city a property tax would probably be better than fees because we have a large entity (refinery) paying 60 percent of our property tax.”
The first resident up to the podium asked why the city keeps the golf course. “It’s like beating a dead horse,” he said. “It’s not giving us anything.”
But council member James Ahlstrom said he thought the golf course provided nice open space in the city. “It produces revenue and adds value to the community.”
Another resident opposed to the tax increase voiced concern that the city would come back for more in the future. “As Holly (refinery) depreciates our houses will go up,” he said. “Then we’ll have to revisit it again. Cities can always find a place to spend money.”
“If one family loses their home because they’re on a fixed income – then we’ve failed,” said another resident.
Ahlstrom became a bit agitated and pointed out that most people don’t come out to the council meetings until there is a tax increase. “People come to meetings that have not come before,” he said. “The tax will keep the status quo or less. I encourage everybody to participate in the budget process before the tax notice comes out. There are legitimate needs out there. It’s been about a three-month process and all of the work sessions have been advertised so you can weigh in. If you think there’s some pork there let me know.”
As the council discussed the proposal, Romney pointed out they have had to make increases in the past. “We had some tough things on the water system and we took a pretty aggressive approach,” he said. “It was tough – but needed to be done. It wasn’t pretty and it was tough on the citizens. We ended up only doing half of what we proposed and needed. I’d love to not pay taxes but we have to keep the big picture in mind.”
Council member Kelly Enquist wasn’t enthusiastic about the increase. “I’m not in favor,” he said. “I look at the fleet of vehicles down to the golf carts and employee salaries. Our budget is excessive. I think we could tighten it up a notch and be just fine.”
“When I came in this was a broke city,” said Council member Mark Preece. “We couldn’t do any of the things we needed. We need to think for more than just the next year. We need to think 20 years. Where we’re going with the city is where we should be. We’re not recklessly spending your money.”
Ultimately, the council voted to pass the increase with James Bruhn and Enquist opposing.