The Tooele City Council held a work meeting Wednesday night, where it discussed the city’s approximately $53 million tentative budget for about two hours.
Tooele City Mayor Debbie Winn gave a brief presentation on the tentative budget, which was received by the City Council on May 1, at the beginning of the meeting. The current tentative budget includes holding the certified tax rate at its current amount, which Winn said was discussed during last year’s budget process.
The certified tax rate is adjusted each year by Tooele County, per state law, to make the total revenue from property tax the same year after year, including a small increase for growth. If property values in the city increase, or there is substantial new growth, the certified tax rate generally decreases.
Prior to the 82% increase to Tooele City’s current property tax rate, the city’s certified tax rate had declined for five straight years as the value of taxable property increased.
The tentative budget also includes a judgment levy, which is a new, separate tax from the city aimed at paying off the remaining $11.2 million from the Tooele Associates lawsuit, settled in 2014. The judgment levy would run through 2037, when the bonds from the lawsuit payment are settled, then come off the books.
The judgment levy was originally proposed last August, but was postponed until this year. For the 2019-20 budget, the tax would impact residents at 8% of their city property taxes.
The owner of a home valued at $240,000 would pay $440 in property taxes, plus $38 in the new judgment levy tax.
All of the money raised by the judgment levy tax would go toward paying the lawsuit payment bonds.
“We want to make sure that we again reiterate to the public that when this bond is paid for, that tax goes away,” Winn said.
When looking just at property taxes, locking the certified tax rate the same as last year means some homeowners won’t see an increase in their property tax bill this year. If their property has been revalued — the city reassesses property on a five-year rotating basis — the homeowner will see a change, based on whether the home value increased or decreased.
“So for those homes that aren’t revalued, when they get their statement it’s going to say, ‘This is your tax rate this year, this is next year,’” said Tooele City Assistant Finance Director Shannon Wimmer. “The difference is going to be zero. Where it goes up is for those people who get revalued.”
If the budget moves forward with the same certified tax rate as last year and the judgment levy tax, it would need to complete the Truth-in-Taxation process. This would require the city to keep its budget tentative until after a public hearing in August.
The tentative budget includes labor cost increases of approximately $835,000, including $515,857 in wages, with a 50 cent raise for all employees. Winn said she felt strongly about the flat amount increase, as it benefits lower and middle-income employees more. The 50 cent increase would average to a 2.5% increase in pay for city employees; no elected official would receive a pay increase under the proposed budget.
During her presentation, Winn outlined equipment, personnel and capital requests from department heads, with some included in the tentative budget and others that are not. The department heads presented their budget proposals during April City Council meetings.
“It’s a difficult task to put this budget together and it does take several months to do this,” Winn said. “And I do appreciate all of the department heads and all of the time and effort that they put forth talking to their staff and getting those requests in to us.”
Included in the capital requests were estimates to build a new public works facility ($1 million), a new cemetery shop and equipment building ($350,000), and redoing the floor in the Pratt Aquatic Center ($42,000).
Winn said there’s a need for new storage facilities for the city’s equipment, which sits outside and is exposed to the conditions and possible burglary. She said backup cameras were stolen off the back of snowplows.
Other changes to the budget include the addition of a $255,000 line item for the police department to purchase five new vehicles to replace existing ones. The vehicle purchase line item would allow the department to replace five vehicles each year, to overhaul the existing fleet.
Other equipment requests funded in the tentative budget include two dump trucks and backup generators paid through the water fund and new computer servers.
Employee requests from department heads included an additional police officer ($88,000) and a full-time human resources tech ($59,724), as well as suggested positions not included in the tentative budget. The suggested positions include a civil inspector for water, sewer and storm drains ($77,000) to aid the city’s building inspectors, and raising the on-call rate for public works employees from $7.50 an hour, to $25 an hour, to have a more competitive rate and improve retention.
City Councilman Scott Wardle said he was concerned about adding the judgment levy tax to residents’ tax burden on the heels of an 82% tax increase for the 2018-19 budget. He suggested looking at other ways to find the $401,772 to cover loan payments this year, either by cutting the budget or using savings.
Wimmer said it would not be the recommendation of the city’s finance department to put off the judgment levy tax for another year by using savings or sales to pay for the ongoing expense.
“We’ve tried to save (taxpayers) from this expense and by doing that, we’ve let our equipment go, the employees have taken cuts,” Wimmer said. “So I just want you to understand that it’s not just as easy as, ‘Oh, we could find $400,000 in here.’”
City Councilman Brad Pratt said he supported freezing the certified tax rate this year and it may be a good practice for a while.
“Because I think had we done that … over the past 32 years, the impact this last year would have been probably minimal because of the need,” he said. “We would have been closer to meeting that need.”
While he said he didn’t want to have to raise taxes, City Councilman Dave McCall explained a recent encounter in which he defended the city and its policies to an agitated constituent. McCall said he later found out the resident’s major complaint was tied to an incident in which only three of the city’s snowplows were functional, causing significant delays in snow removal.
If the city’s equipment is failing, then citizens aren’t getting the services they pay for, McCall said. He suggested following the mayor’s tentative budget — which would freeze the certified tax rate and apply the judgment levy tax — instead of only looking for cuts in the budget.
“We’ve had this judgment for years,” McCall said. “ … When we first got hit with this lawsuit, I said we should raise taxes to pay it. I said that, because to me it only made sense.”
At the end of the meeting, the City Council scheduled a second work meeting on the budget for May 29 at 5 p.m. Prior to the meeting, Council Chairman Steve Pruden tasked the councilmembers with finding suggestions to trim the budget and to bring questions to the city’s finance department.