The Tooele City Council adopted an 82-percent certified property tax rate increase over last year’s rate after listening to about 22 people speak during a Truth-in-Taxation hearing at City Hall Wednesday.
The city council also adopted its budget for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1.
Comments at the public hearing ranged from support of the tax increase to support of an increase — but at a much lesser rate — to total frustration that the council has not raised taxes incrementally.
“We knew we had to do this, and we probably should have done it sooner,” Mayor Debbie Winn told the audience. “We planned for many years to have more retail development in Tooele, but it didn’t happen. The administration has done everything it could to add sales tax so an increase in property tax would not be needed.”
Council chambers at City Hall overflowed with about 130 people in attendance.
A recent property tax increase public notice indicated that the council considered a property tax increase of close to 115 percent, but Winn announced a lesser 82-percent increase prior to the public hearing.
The new tax rate means that the owner of a residential property valued at $200,000 and who paid $201 to Tooele City last year will pay $367 this year.
Also, the owner of a commercial property valued at $200,000 and who paid $336 to Tooele City last year will pay $667 this year.
An in-depth study of the city’s finances in the spring of this year showed a “structural imbalance” for the city’s general fund. The study was conducted by Lewis Young Robertson & Burningham, Inc. of Salt Lake City.
The consultants suggested a 129-percent tax increase to halt the “structural imbalance.”
“The council talked about cutting this increase from when we first found out about the numbers,” Winn said. “We worked as a team up until the last minute to make this happen.”
The tax rate proposal was cut to 115 percent, until the mayor’s announcement of an 82 percent increase Wednesday night.
Recent adjustments to the budget include not raising taxes this year to pay on a lawsuit.
“The judgment levy increase will happen next year. It will have to,” the mayor said.
The city planned to raise $678,406 for a tax shortfall this year, but decreased that amount to $378,000.
In another attempt to cut the tax rate, employees will receive a 2-percent match on 401 K plans, instead of a 3-percent match, according to the mayor.
Tax increases to build a police station and offer higher pay and benefits for police officers will stay in the budget.
“We cannot progress without a tax increase,” the mayor told the audience.
City leaders said they have met nine times in meetings to discuss ways to cut the budget.
Kaye Clayton, who owns commercial property at the corner of Vine Street and Main Street, expressed her displeasure with the city.
“Believe me, you can find ways to cut the budget,” Clayton said. “Downtown is shameful. Gutters have not been taken care of, trees aren’t taken care of. Does anybody want to buy a building on the corner of Main and Vine?”
Justin Brady praised the council for finally taking a stand with its finances.
“I think it is great that we have a mayor who is finally taking a stand,” Brady said. “It’s a huge increase, but it is necessary. We can’t continue to push this under the rug.”
Brady said city leaders need to prevent this type of situation from ever happening again.
Brandy Rogers said the sudden increase in the property tax rate is a sacrifice Tooele residents should not have to face.
“We need better, we want better,” Rogers said.
Councilmember Scott Wardle said the 2018-19 fiscal year budget has been torn apart and analyzed more than anytime while he has been in office.
“This has not been haphazard,” he said. “Surveys were sent out. We tried to involve the public as much as possible.”
Councilmember Brad Pratt said he appreciated the mayor’s process in this year’s budget.
“I’ve been on the city council for seven years and this is the most transparent budget I’ve seen,” Pratt said.