Saturday, August 17, 2013

Say NO to 80% Fire TAX increase

An Open Letter to the Wasatch County Council aka Fire SSD Board:

Thank for listening at the Fire Tax Truth in Taxation Hearing.  I look forward to hearing the answers to the many excellent questions that were asked by the public.

As you contemplate your decision on whether to raise taxes or not, I hope that you continue with your historical fiscal conservative principles of avoiding tax increases and continue to seek alternatives for economic balance.   (For example, reducing expenditures, cutting redundant services, greater efficiency).

A few specific points:

  • Any tax increase tends to be permanent.  Past experience shows that many entities will spend the maximum that can be garnered through taxes received.
  • Tax increases should (must) be fully justified by a proper budget.
    •  The budget includes a capital expenditure of $86K, while there is a Capital Project Fund of over $500K - an amount which was somehow added to "balance" the budget after approval.
    • The proposed budget includes such items as:
    •  Litigation $300K, one would hope that this would NOT continue to be an expense at this level as it has been for the last few years ($1 Million)
    •  If that previous litigation is successful an amount of $900K should come to the county (according to statements made at the Dec tax hearing)
    •  Director Fees, which were rescinded in 2013, remain in the budget ($17K)
    •     If those fees were, in fact, illegal, the funds should be returned from prior years. ($70K+ to offset the budget)
    •  Salaries were all increased by 5%, a virtual stealth increase with little explanation or justification, in the near nonexistent budget hearings
Wasatch County modified Fire Impact fees on new dwellings in 2011, where are those funds accounted for in the budget?

We have all the appearance of another SSD that is NOT 'well controlled,' as we had in the SSD Legislative Audit in 2001

If I may, let me repeat some suggestions I made at the Hearing:

  • Insure that the County Auditor AND County Manager have full oversight control over the Fire SSD budget, we can't budget properly without coordination.
  • Establish an Administrative Control Board to manage the Fire SSD    The COUNCIL is legislative – NOT administrative
    • Wasatch Co Code: A primary purpose of this plan is to provide a greater separation of executive and legislative powers than exists with the current commission form of government. Where the plan is silent on the distribution or placement of a particular power, it hereby authorized the allocation of powers according to an executive-legislative distinction.
    • .1.03(2) It is preferred that special service districts (SSDs) and special service areas (SSAs) shall be governed by administrative control boards or trustees elected as provided for in state statute
    • Consistent with this plan's provisions increasing the size and reducing the compensation of the council, it is the intent of this plan to establish the council as a citizen body whose members serve on a part time basis in a legislative, policy making role, and membership on the council is not intended to be a full time position involving day to day oversight of county operations and functions. The council is encouraged to cooperate with and fully utilize the county's special service districts and special service areas elected administrative control boards, appointed boards and commissions, and to give full consideration to information and recommendations communicated by such boards and commissions, in order to maximize citizen participation in county government.
  • Consider control boards over ALL SSD's or decommission at least county wide SSD's unless real justification can be be given for their usefulness.   Wasatch County continues to have more than nearly any other county in Utah.
  • If it is necessary to increase the Fire Capital Project Fund for appropriate expenditures and to avoid future lending costs, then present a proper plan and put limits on the use of the funds If there are proper capital needs,  a BOND at least is not open ended, but has a specific time limit and is specific to the NEED.  Property taxes become eternal.    Where are the Fire IMPACT fees?
  • If ANY tax increase at all, it should be minimal, perhaps 10% - (unless the county is admitting that the Jordanelle assessment area isdead.)  Then a series of NECESSARY, and justified, tax increases could be considered, with each increase requiring a TRUTH hearing, NOT a mil rate or 'neighbor' county and pretty picture presentation.
From my viewpoint, other than 'less than optimal' planning, fiscal efficiency and overblown litigation, little has been produced to justify anything near an 80% increase in property taxes.

Robert Wren
435 654-4667
More questions and comments can be found here

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