Showing posts with label FIRE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FIRE. Show all posts

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Fire, Fire, False Alarm

How dare the voters challenge our decision to raise property taxes 80% ?  

We'll show them:
"PUBLIC NOTICE is herby (sic) given that the County Council of Wasatch County will (sic) Special Meeting in the Council Chambers, at the County Administration Building, 25 N. Main St. Heber City, Utah, commencing at 4:30 P.M., Thursday August 29th, 2013."   (posted ca 4:10 PM 28 Aug)  

Purpose:  "Consideration of Resolution to call a special election on November 5, 2013 to place the Wasatch County Fire District certified tax rate increase for public vote." 

Meeting (unofficial) minutes (the Special meeting wasn't so special):
 I move we go into the WCFD board meeting.

 Chair Capson:  We just called the meeting to see if it was possible to put this on the ballot.  It wasn't.

    Someone?   You mean it's not on the agenda 
Capson:  Yes
    I move we go into executive session.
End of public meeting.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fire TAX approved at 80%

After hearing (but apparent not listening) to the public, the Fire Board approved the 80% TAX INCREASE.    Despite their promise to answer the question posed two weeks earlier, they failed to do so.

A people's referendum to allow the voters to weigh in on the issue is 
ready for signatures (1500 needed by October 5)


I'm afraid that a many questions from the public were left unanswered at the continuation of the "truth" hearing Wednesday.   I would also suggest that while Steve Capson gave an excellent overview of websites that can provide a great deal of information, there may have been a few, shall we say, inconsistencies with the declaration that the Fire Department SSD is "transparent."

  • Transparent Utah is not optional;
    •  "Participating state entities shall submit detail revenue and expense transactions from their general ledger accounting system to the UPFW at least quarterly and within one month after the end of the fiscal quarter."
    • Employee wages ARE required
      •  "Participating state entities will submit employee compensation detail information on a basis consistent with its fiscal year to the UPFW at least once per year" 
  • Wasatch County Fire district IS listed as a participant, but gives this result for 2013:
    • "We're sorry, but we did not find any transactions that met your criteria.
      Please revise your search above, or visit this entity's profile page for more information:"
  • AND the same for 2012
  • 2011 does have some figures, but NO names on salaries.
  •  is a very nice website and provides quite a bit of information
    • It does NOT, however include wages and salaries after 2011
    • The 2013 budget is not the same as posted on the SAO website, and shows a deficit.
    • Although Utah law requires posting minutes and recordings shortly (3 days?) after meetings, the only one seen today under  is the Aug 7, 2013 TnT Hearing   (which  might be helpful for you all to listen to so you can again hear the question which were asked in public comments.)
    • While most minutes may be posted, the 11/29/12 meeting, wherein the Tax increase hearing was approved, required several GRAMA requests and the aid of the ombudsman to finally get a couple of days before the August 2013 hearing.
I could continue, but I hope the point is made - this is NOT transparency, either that required by law or that openness which fosters communication and trust.

It has been repeatedly pointed out that there are MANY well qualified, competent and available people who are, or would be if asked or considered, in this county who would be more than happy to serve.   

As noted in the county code mentioned below, this is what your rules and direction are - 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.
I fail to understand why this is seems so difficult to understand or to put into place.   The more citizen involvement, the better the government, while we also include the standard that "That government is best, which governs least."

Regards, in transparency and openness, still looking forward to answers,

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

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fire Tax Increase = 5 % PAY INCREASE

A public hearing was held 27 Dec. for the first "Truth" hearing for the 80% Tax Increase for the Fire District SSD.    Perhaps the most interesting thing found was the acknowledgement of a FIVE percent pay INCREASE for all employees of the Fire District.   This had been rumored for a month or so, but not heard by many (any?) citizens who attended most of the meetings. 

That proposal was verified that the elusive budget passed 19 Dec included the pay 5% increase.  For comparison other Wasatch County employees reportedly received a raise of 2%.

Most average residents (and taxpayers) have received NO raises in recent times - many have taken pay CUTS, but they will be privileged to pay additional taxes is the 80% tax increase is approved at the second Hearing in July or August

Here are few other items we may have learned, had confirmed or forgotten.

  • No one on the Council (aka Fire Board) can tell us WHEN they approved the Tax INCREASE
  • They also don't really know when they approved the budget (12/19, after the TnT Notice) - or which one
  • They think the public hearing for the fire SSD budget was on 12/5, or maybe 11/29 or 12/6 thru 12/26
  • It definitely wasn't 12/27, but a few budget items of discussion did sneak in
  • The $892K in "bad debts" (2010) will eventually be collected - and credited to the Fire District
  • There is in the budget a 5% pay raise for all fire employees
  • I apparently does not include the Fire Board
  • It may, or may not, include the chief
  • The budgeted (expected) tax revenues decreased from $815K in 2012 to $750K in 2013 - but they actually expect $815K or more.
  • If (when) the tax increase is approved, they WILL be able to spend it
  • The Budget has not change since November except for a few numbers
  • Some of the numbers may be "0's" which don't mean anything, wait that's the fed budget
  • The Timberlakes Fire Station is in operation
  • Of the $2.7 M in readily available money as of 12/31/11 most of it (or all of it, or more) has been spent
  • The tax increase will not occur until the Nov 2013 payments, but will be spent earlier in the year.
  • WCFD has cash to cover the budgeted deficit of $500K this year
  • Legal fees in the budget were reduced from $300K to $257,913.53 but may go down, or may go up
  • There is a new account for $86,500 for a buying fire apparatus, but nothing specific as it all costs more, but $86.5 sounded like a nice down payment
  • The proposed increase could be up to 80%
  • The Heber Fire station is too small, more room is needed for training, which will raise, no decrease, the ISO number.
  • No, they could not possibly use the empty rooms at the Rec Center or the Council chambers or any other public building.
  • In 2015, if they collect bad debts, increase the tax and assessment and creeks rise, they may be able to finance a training session in Hawaii
  • 80% increase of what, mil levy, tax or budget?
  • WCFD has very nice website and is willing to add whatever is requested (and we don't know how much extra it costs, because we didn't ask, but wordpress is free, as for labor???)
  • ISO is the most important factor in determining insurance costs
  • ISO is the least important factor in determining insurance costs
  • Some people's insurance has already gone up, because ISO went to 10
  • Insurance policies have different rates
  • mil rate is more important than the amount of taxes paid
  • mil rates vary from year to year
  • As the mil rate has gone down since 1913, taxes have not gone up except on the taxpayers
  • Those entities with a higher mil rate pay more taxes, except for those with lower assessment
  • Everyone was very friendly, except for a few pointed barbs
  • There may have been more fire employees that citizen cynics -  perhaps 47%

Monday, December 17, 2012

80% Fire Tax INCREASE

Fire Scrooge

Wow, Merry Christmas Wasatch taxpayers, here's your present - 80% increase in your fire district property taxes, compliments of your Fire Board, aka Wasatch County Council.   Why? Is it because there hasn't been an increase in mil levy since 1988?  Or because of growth? Or because other districts get more?  Or because it will save homeowners on insurance? (see

Or is it because of nearly One Million dollars in "legal fees" 2011-13?   Or perhaps $100,000 in "director fees" since 2011 (also known as Council/Fire Board payments).    It couldn't be for Jordanelle Fire Station, because they created a NEW assessment area to collect $671,000 from those residents (after losing a law suit over the previous one).  

Wait, where did that payment in the law suit come from?  Could that have something to do with $892,891 in "bad debts" in 2010? 

This increase might have something to do with the change to an earlier budget suggesting a transfer of $500,000+ from "capital projects."   Could this increase have been influenced by paying $92,536 to the fire chief in 2010 (gross compensation, per  Is there a big pay raise buried in these budget numbers?    

 Has the Fire Board already approved this tax increase, or will the vote be taken on the 27th?  Well, at least there's a public hearing on Dec 27 to answer these, and other, questions.