UPDATE (August 24, 2012): The STAR Forum has gathered some citizens for an application for a Referendum Vote on this tax increase. Please contact me to help gather signatures of Summit County Voters, so we can show this county council we are tired of tax and spend policies in this county.
What would be the best way to get a tax increase through? Can you imagine setting a budget that includes a tax increase, spending the money, and THEN having a final public hearing? Well, that’s pretty much how it’s done. And it’s okay under Utah law.
Wednesday, August 15, a number of residents attended the “public hearing” for the tax rate increase on their municipal taxes in unincorporated Summit County. This tax increase was a 51.7% increase. This was the second public hearing. The first public hearing was not well-attended, because it wasn’t until people got their tax notices and saw the increase that they were up in arms. Let’s just say, the council sees Summit County homes as their money machine.
The council chambers were packed. It was standing room only. Chairs were brought in from other areas of the building. Residents came from all over Summit County frustrated by the seemingly lackadaisical attitude of the council.
For ½ an hour, the council “sold” us their reasons for the tax increase and how important it was for the roads. One of the main points I got out of their sale was, we held one public hearing and no one was there, so we moved forward and already spent all the money because it was construction time and we had to fix all the roads. So, this was nothing more than a “dog and pony show” as one Wanship resident put it, and the public hearing meant absolutely nothing.
I personally stood and asked what items were CUT from the budget in order to make up some of this difference. Were there non-essential services cut? Were salaries brought down to a level in line with the private sector? One gentlemen, Mr. Callahan, lauded the work done by the new machines purchased that save us so much money but cost more man hours to run. I looked up his salary while I was sitting there. In 2010 this guy made $147,000 per year. I doubt he’s taken a pay cut, and I’ll bet he’s seen a pay increase since then. Our county employees are making much better than the private sector, while the private sector has had to tighten their belts significantly. Please remember council, it’s those private citizens that are paying those public employees’ salaries.
With blank stares the council looked at me, until John Hanarhan stepped in to say that the budget has been cut year over year because of less tax revenue. While parts of the budget may have been cut, overall, this is not true according to the counties own records. Carston Mortensen quoted to the council all of their revenues over the last five (5) years or so and it shows either an increase or a leveling of revenue, not a decrease.
Sally Elliot when on to say they have not wanted to let people go in such a tough economy, and so they have cut budgets by attrition. WHAT? This is such a horrible way to handle the public’s money. No one wants to let people go in their business. When the construction business took a turn for the worse, that’s what we had to do. These were people with families, and mortgages. It eats me up inside to let someone go, but the survival of the company has to be considered, just as the survival of the people of the county must be considered. Either a few people were let go or the whole thing goes down. Here is the problem with the “ruling class” thinking of the council: They think that it’s okay to “keep people” because they can just raise your taxes and mine to make up the difference. It matters not at all to them if YOU “need” these people to work for YOU. Or have they forgotten, that YOU are paying the bills?
John Hanarhan and Chris Robinson simply quote Utah code to say they complied by having a public hearing. I pose a question to my council: Is it good practice to comply with the law and simply ignore the public, or is it a better practice to be responsible with the public’s money and be sure the public is heard when their money is being taken through legal plunder? Speaking of roads, Granite did most of the road repair. The road in front of Chris Robinson’s home was done, even though it wasn’t due for repaving yet. And imagine that, money found it’s way into Chris’s election fund from none other than Granite.
Then Bob Jasper, the county manager, actually said it was either the roads get fixed with a tax increase, or the roads get fixed and we lose services from our Sherriff’s department. Really? These kind of scare tactics are tired, and old, and we simply don’t buy it anymore. Either you won’t be safe, or it’s for the children. Can’t the council come up with something new?
I have no respect for Bob Jasper’s position. I didn’t vote him in, and neither did any of you. This position is the rubber stamp of the council. He doesn’t answer to the people, only to the council. Also, for a guy who’s running our county, I for one would like to be able to vote him out if needed. The recommendation to “spend the money” during construction season before a final hearing shows me where his allegiance lies, and it isn’t with the people. Also, I can’t tell you how many times Sally Elliot, looked over to the county manager, or the county attorney for help with her answers. Sometimes she even verbally said, “help me.”
Cuts can be made everywhere, and in a $47 million budget, I’m pretty sure we could have trimmed more than half of this “needed” money from someplace else. Friends of Animals, where Claudia McMullen is making quite a chunk of change is supported by our county tax dollars. Is that necessary, or should the funds be coming from private sources? If FOA is saving the county money, maybe the county should look at privatizing the Animal Control and get their monies worth.
There is money that can be saved even in the Sherriff’s office. We (the tax payer) replace vehicles not on time in the field, but on mileage. All of our officers are taking their vehicles home and many do not live in Summit County. Summit County has the highest paid wages in the state of Utah, and our prisoners are the highest paid prisoners in the state. (Don’t even get me started on the prison pay.) But this is just one department and it is an essential one.
[Since this article was printed I received a call from Summit County Sherrif, Dave Edmonds. This issue of driving vehicles home, after studies have been done, actually saves the county money when officers are assigned a vehicle, because they tend to take better care of their vehicles. Also, we need to remember that there are essential services and non-essential services. Our county is spending WAY TOO MUCH on non-essential services. We can put this tax on as a referendum, and then help the county council cut non-essential services to balance their budget.]
While I’m sure the people on the county council are well-intentioned, they are misguided, and I believe do not understand the proper role of government, nor the great responsibility that comes with handling the public treasury. I need to be clear that one council member did NOT vote for this tax increase. That was Dave Ure.
I bet most of the people that pay taxes in Summit County would be okay with a much more streamlined government in this county. Fewer so-called perks, and more appropriate government, where government does what it is supposed to do, instead of being everything to everyone. Then we could ease the tax burden on our county’s citizens.