Sandy City Council votes to raise property taxes at crowded Truth in Taxation hearing
Aug 19, 2019 03:03PM
By Justin Adams
A Sandy City police officer addresses the City Council in support of a property tax increase that will fund an additional five police officer positions. (Justin Adams/City Journals)
By Justin Adams | [email protected]
The Sandy City Council chambers were packed on Aug. 13 as the city held its Truth in Taxation hearing, a chance for residents to voice their opinion before the council votes whether or not to raise residents’ property taxes.
At the end of the night, the same 4-3 margin that voted to include the tax increase in the city’s tentative budget two months ago, voted for the official adoption of about a 22% property tax increase.
The initial budget called for about a 34% property tax increase, to be partially offset by the elimination of the city’s street-lighting fee. However, a letter from the city’s Public Utilities Advisory Board convinced the council to maintain the fee and to instead decrease the property tax increase by a commensurate amount. That placed the tax increase at around 22%.
The increase will not apply to a resident’s overall property tax bill, just the portion that goes to Sandy City, which is about 10%. For a $400,000 home, that means an extra $44 per year, according to a presentation given by the city’s finance director, Brian Kelley.
The primary use for the city’s new revenue will be to hire seven new firefighters and five new police officers, as well as help fund retirement plans for first responders.
The retirement funding will help the fire department retain its firefighters, said Chief Bruce Cline, who explained that the city frequently invests large amounts of money in training new firefighters, only for them to leave for other departments with better retirement plans.
“It is going to make a difference to this city and to the citizens. An extra ambulance on the road. Extra people on the firetrucks. I’m not going to have guys leaving to go to another city now,” Cline told the Sandy Journal after the meeting.
“Funding a tier two compensation plan is a huge deal for these officers. It makes a big impact on their retirement, to the point of being about 35 years of working,” echoed Police Chief Bill O’Neal.
Former Sandy City Mayor Steve Newton questioned the need for additional first responders during citizen comments.
“Crime statistics in Sandy have gone down roughly 10% since I was mayor, yet the number of police has doubled. So now it takes twice as many police officers to deal with one crime as it did when I was mayor. That tells me maybe you have a little bit of fluff there,” he said.
His calculations, he said, were based on the city’s staffing plan in 1990 when he left his position as mayor.
Sandy’s current mayor, Kurt Bradburn, voiced his support for the city’s first responders and the importance of fast response times by relaying a personal story.
“I have been on the end of those 9-1-1 calls that resulted in a way that no one wanted them to,” he said. “When I was a scared 16-year-old kid I held my father in my arms as he died of a massive heart attack. I was all alone. It took 7 minutes for those firemen to walk in the door and it felt like two hours.”
The mayor also emphasized that while first responders were the focus of this year’s budget, there are still many needs throughout the cities’ various departments, including the need to address deteriorating buildings and infrastructure.
Councilwoman Brooke Christensen said taking care of the city’s first responsibility — public safety — first allows the city to now look forward and plan long-term for the city’s capital project needs.
Earlier this year, there were talks of the city bonding to finance some of those capital projects, such as rebuilding a crumbling Parks and Recreation building and fire station. That possibility will likely be examined again in the city’s budget process next year.
Christensen said the one thing that stood out to her the most throughout this process was the thoughtful engagement of Sandy residents.
“Sandy City residents are amazing,” she said. “I’ve been so impressed with how much they’ve been willing to learn about the situation. I’ve been so impressed with their educated comments, questions and suggestions.”