Showing posts with label Tax. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tax. Show all posts

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    •  Director Fees, which were rescinded in 2013, remain in the budget ($17K)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, August 22, 2009

Area Police Salaries

A rough analysis of the comparative salaries of Law Enforcement in the local area. Data SOURCE

  • In an economic downturn, local governments need to cut back spending and have done so - right?
  • Heber City Police are underpaid - right?
  • Wasatch County pay is lower than Heber and surrounding areas - right?

Apparently NOT, but draw your own conclusions:
(Note: two averages are given for Park City as their Police Chief salary, $129,535, affects the averages far more than in other jurisdictions) Click on individual locations for full salary list.

Is it time for consolidation of law enforcement forces?

Aug 2008Aug 2009change
Heber City



Park City


Without Chief

Wasatch County



Summit County



Duchesne County



$642,357No data






Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wastch County Payroll Update

THE TOP TEN (of 274)
Michael Davis COUNTY MANAGER $105,397 up $16,531 +18.6%
Phil Wright HEALTH DEPARTMENT $104,330 up $6,699 +6.9%
Dennis Hansen PREVENTION $98,334 up $11,843 +13.7%
Alfred Mickelsen PLANNING & ZONING $91,386 up $2,520 +2.8%
Kent Berg PUBLIC WORKS $90,791 up $7,732 +9.3%
Thomas Low ATTORNEY $86,586 up $5,362 +6.6%
Don Wood GIS-DATA PROCESSING $82,859 up $5,134 +6.6%
Paul Wilson ENGINEERING $80,870 up $5,002 +6.6%
Scott Hathcock SHERIFF $80,475 not top ten
Tracy Richardson HEALTH DEPARTMENT $76,252 up $4,816 +6.7%
Source    Previous Report 2007

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

School Budget Questions

Here are a few questions on the 2009/10 School budget, which were recently sent to the Board of Education for the Public Hearing on 25 June. (A prompt response has been received from Board Chair, Ann Horner (see below) Thank you, Ann.

  • Why are teacher and education salaries decreasing and maintenance increasing? "maintenance went up because of additional staff required for thelarger High School." Are we perhaps spending too much on buildings, cosmetics and frills rather than what is needed - in the classrooms?
  • pg 7 Fund 10 line 2600-180 General Fund Operation and Maintenance Salary increased by $80K "additional personnel to maintain the old high school"
  • pg 19 Fund 32 line 2600-100 Capital Projects Operation and Maintenance Salary increase of $90K "staffing adjustments made to offset the 1.5 million dollar cut from legislature"
  • pg 5 Fund 10 line 1000-100 total General fund Instruction - salary decrease $600K "staffing adjustments made to offset the 1.5 million dollar cut fromlegislatured."***(1000-161 Aides -$130K) "we would love to hire all of the aides back but in lean years we aremaking adjustments to live within the budget." *** 2100-142 General fund Guidance Personnel decrease $70K "We have taken the Utah Behavior Initiative person back as we aretrained and the program can be run without 1/2 time person. We have beenable to take 1/2 time counselor from the 5th 6th school with theconfiguration because of elementary status we don't fund as muchcounselor time to do scheduling an other responsibilities that a 7thgrade would need. If the services are not required we don't have to fundthe personnel."
  • pg 6 Fund 10 line 2300-115 Supervisors directors decrease $100K "We are not replacing Vickie Todd as a Director at this time. We are looking for other Directors and Superintendent to assume theresponsibilities of this position. We feel in these economic times we are all being asked to do a little more. We also reassigned a specialist from the district office to the classroom. We reassigned her work to another specialist in the district."
  • pg 6 line 2400 152 Principals increase $63K

What are "Media Personnel - certificated" at nearly $300K in annual salary (for several years)? "The Media Personnel Certificated is the Librarians in the schools, they have their Media Certification. We pay them at that level not at an aide salary. With the Certification they can be counted as time with aneducator and the teachers in the Elementary schools gain additional preptime without having to loose instructional time with the students.(approx 30 minutes a week.) So that figure is their salaries."

  • Why have general fund revenues increased by 50+% Total revenues by 65+% while enrollment is up only 10%?
  • Why/how did 2008 budget increase by $4million from original to actual? Was it the increase in taxes from higher assessments?? "I believe you are right that the increase in the 2008 budget was fromthe assesments being higher than what we had anticipated."
  • Is the Wasatch school philosophy to spend ALL monies received whether "needed" (in the budget) or not? "We are not in the business of trying to keep spending more. We did not go to truth intaxation to raise more money last year nor this year. We have in fact been putting additional money that we did not budget into the fund balance. We are trying to cut ongoing cost and personnel as we are receiving decreases from legislative funding. We are planning on holding our cost down and using the fund balance to maintain programs and the educational integrity of the district in these difficult times."
  • What was the cost of trading the old Junior High and the Rocky Mountain school grades? Where is it found in the budget?

Are "building" funds (pg 20 line 720) of $66.8 million the cost of the New High School? "We have released the numbers on the high school and they are on the website, (possibly here?) the figure we have put out does include the land, architects,Layton and all fees associated with the high school."

  • This number is consistent with previous reports for the $59.5 bonded school
  • Will the $3.7 M in 2009/10 budget bring the cost to $70.5M?
  • Are land cost, furnishings, equipment, etc. entirely included within these figures?

Supt. Shoemaker reported that $2.8 M of "interest on bond proceeds" were used in payment of High School construction:

  • The budget (2008, 2009) shows $2.1 in interest on Capital Projects funds and $1.1M interest in General Fund
  • Was general fund interest used for construction?

Wasn't there a roughly equivalent amount of interest accrued (but not paid?) "I know we have not changed the schedule of the bond or the payments in any way." on that bond? If so, haven't we merely created more debt and postponed payments to future years and spent MORE money than what the project was sold to the voters?

"I do appreciate thoughtful questions and hope that they will make me a betterboard member. I will look into your questions and try to answer any thatI have not at this time. "

"As I have sat in the meetings it is clear to me that we need to be sensitive and conservative in what we take from the public. I have tried to be frugal and to spend thetaxpayers money responsibly."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Truth in Education (Construction) Costs

It appears that the School District has opted not to release ALL of the teacher's aides, finding money to keep perhaps two thirds of them. It was nice to read on the School website that several of these proposed suggestions were adopted.

Earlier, funding had been "found" to build the third high school gym, and finish adding bricks and mortar. An analysis of recent school budget leads to the conclusion this should have come as no surprise. In the last five years, 2005 - 2009 Wasatch school district has had a 10% increase in enrollment BUT a 65% increase in revenues/expenditures. Click here for a Summary Report ( and here for the Source. Total revenue to the district in 2009 - about $47 Million or $9,760 per student. 2005: $28 million for 4,303 students (you can divide for per student)

Several questions were asked of school representatives in a recent radio interview, click here and here to listen (two parts). In particular, one question was asked about the source of the funds for the third gym et al (sports/frills - as opposed to teachers/education). While an answer was not given in the interview, subsequently it was reported that the interest "earned" from placing construction bond funds in the bank had to be spent on construction rather than operations according to state law.

According to a phone call with the Utah State of Education, finance department that was close but not totally correct, BUT it is a Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (the website name sounds somewhat like 'gasbag'). Rather than a law, it seems to be customary practice in Utah to build 'more' school for the bond money than the advertised funds requested. This practice, of course, merely increases the costs by forcing the interest to be PAID to the end of the bond payments. It may seem strange to some, but banks generally do not provide money through a loan without paying interest from the day of receipt of funds. This procedure is reminiscent of the buy now, pay later philosophy that was so prevalent in leading up to our current national economic crisis. . . (and regrettably continues)

This little procedural interpretation allows bonds to be proposed to the taxpayers for a certain amount with the full knowledge that the costs will be substantially higher - Does this like a bit of subterfuge, bait and switch, or just a little distortion of the truth for sales purposes?

So the answer to the source of the funds appears to be simply that the money was already there, the Board was just required to give the approval for its expenditure. A second source for the money may have been the excess taxation that was received through increased assessments prior to the correction of the tax rates. In either case the Truth in taxation hearings were vastly deficient.

Several other questions remain unanswered, but the overriding answer to most seems to be "we have the money and we will spend it, building bigger and 'better' to satisfy our edifice complex" and the taxpayers are available later for increase to cover operation costs with a truth in taxation hearing.

Oh, on the subject of the NEED for a third gym. Consider this: with only TWO gyms, (at least 4 teaching stations) 1 Wrestling room, Batting room, Cheer/Dance room, Racketball (sic) Court, Student Weight room, 2 sports (?) classroom - for a total of at least 11 sport 'teaching' stations - at merely 6 periods periods per day and 20 students per class; there would apparently be enough space to have 1320 students in some sort of physical education class every single school day. Wasatch High will have the most physically fit graduates in the state!

But, planned enrollment is only 1200, AND PE is only required for 3 semesters (not eight) during four years of high school and probably does not meet daily. It certainly appears that TWO gyms would have been MORE than sufficient.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bricks OR Aides?

A recent report stated that the School District "is currently in excellent shape financially," and that the shortfall this year was covered "without individuals losing their jobs."

Perhaps it needs to be asked why 2/3's of the teacher's aides need to be fired for next year. It would seem that these employees are probably more important, and helpful to EDUCATION than, for example, a third gym.

A few suggestions, in no particular order, on how to save these positions (listed at $671,098 in the original 2009 budget, page 5 item 161):

  • The School District finally posted employee salaries on; the author of the District's press releases to the Wave is listed as the highest paid teacher in the District. He is also the official PR person for the District. Assuming that his extra $9,623 pay may be for his PR work, eliminating that job would save 1.5 aides.
  • In an earlier report the PR said that "The total cost for the reconfiguration (Grade realignment in schools) of the district will come to about $1 million," including high school upgrades. A later report stated "We authorized an additional $750,000 to be spent at the high school to finish the portion of the school that had been scheduled to be "shelled in" for future use. This includes four classrooms, the little theater and one practice gym." One could assume that the remaining $250K is being spent for the unpopular 5/6 and 7/8 school swap - There's enough for 40 aides.
  • Cutting three "Quality Teaching Days" (paid, but no teaching) would decrease the average $47,963 teacher salary (from salaries reported at by about $787 or $200K total enough for 30 more aides, who are there to help teachers in educating students.
  • Cutting one class day, according to the press release, would save about $250K (total operating cost $43 MILLION, up over 60% with an enrollment increase of 10% since 2005) or another 40 aides.

I have no idea of the cost of the third gym or little theater, but NOT building them now could save even more money to offset some of the other proposals.

I won't even ask why we need three assistant Superintendents and a business administrator at salaries over $100K, or multitudes of other administrators.

Reports are now being made that the reconfiguration will require more money for new buses and drivers.

Which is more important - Bricks and Mortar (gym) or teachers (and aides) in the classroom?

That question was answered here years ago in this blog. "By focusing on a extravagant oversized school/community center, we, necessarily, place our money where our collective mouth is. Apparently, we value the bricks more than the educators. Again, why not put less money in a new building and more in enticing and rewarding more quality teachers. Expending excessive taxpayer money on buildings will make it even more difficult to garner support for better salaries. It all emanates from the same taxpayers' pockets."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Legislative Audit Shows High School Over Budget

The cost of the new Wasatch High School appears to be $77 million as opposed to $59.5 authorized in the November 2006 bond which stated "that general obligation bonds would not exceed $59.5 million for the purpose of defraying all or a portion of the costs of land acquisition, equipment, acquisition, and construction of a new high school and related improvements."

The school construction cost is nearly $40 per sq. ft. more expensive than the average of seven high schools built in Utah. It was also the school cited as 20 percent larger than USOE guidelines and had the highest sq. ft. Per student. There were also flaws mentioned in the bidding and contracting processes.

These are all conclusions reached in the recent Utah Auditor General's School Constuction Legislative Audit released in November. Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature had requested a performance audit of school building construction, 21 School Districts were studied. While the report did not name the individual districts audited, it was quite clear that the one school which was highlighted as "the most expensive high school being built during our review period." was right here in Heber.

Wasatch High School construction practices merited five pages of the report, plus other being anonymously mentioned alsewhere. Those pages can be found here. The full report is available here.

While taxpayers are reviewing and paying their property taxes this week, they may remember hearing of the so-called "Truth in Taxation" hearing (See meeting report) where taxpayers were told there was no property tax increase. Checkbooks now show that was in error.

At some point the taxpayers deserve an complete explanation of the school cost AND the source of the funds to pay for the 11 to 25% cost overrun. We, the taxpayers, will now be paying for a school that was 20% too large and 25% too expensive for many years. Hopefully many people will actually read the audit. Click here for more articles on the school bond. I'll try not to say "I told you so."

In recent hearings on school class realignment, information was promulgated on the possible need for additional school construction a Junior High and/or new elementary. Even at the current $66 to $75 million reported price tag, the Wasatch Wave reports that "The total cost for the reconfiguration of the district will come to about $1 million, according to Mr. Shoemaker, and that includes completing portions of the high school that had been slated to be finished later, such as the 4 additional classrooms, the third gym and the little theater."

Many resident attendees reportedly decried the failure to consider using the current high school as a valid and usable building. It would seem pure folly to sell the property in this down economy only to spend millions on new construction in the not too distant future - if plans can be believed. Much of the school is usable and functional although it reportedly is falling into disrepair as normal maintenance seems to be minimal.

Hopefully, taxpayers will be more diligent in asking questions - and getting answers this time. Before any new construction is considered, year round school, which better utilize building resources, must be thoroughly evaluated.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

People's Referendum Fails

Regrettably, too many listened to the propaganda by Boyer/Walmart outspending the local citizenry by probably 50 to 100 to one. (as predicted) The valiant effort by the citizens' referendum failed to stop the Big Box behemoth, proving once again that massive advertising campaigns with cutesy slogans seem to work (e.g. $900,000 benefits).

On the positive side there will be some new faces on the Council in January.

HOWEVER, the final decision has not been made on the design of the development. A few things can still be done to soften the blow to the Valley.

Especially with the 20 units per acre (or more) which will be requested under the newly approved zone. Explanations and lobbying must be offered to the Planning Commission and City Council members on at least TWO items:
  1. Planning for the location of the Bypass must be made BEFORE approving the Boyer Project.
  2. A proper fiscal IMPACT analysis must be made on the COSTS of the entire project (including housing) to Wasatch County residents (which all Heber residents are) - including potential education and school construction costs. Any benefits (sales tax) should be based on population - NOT on sq ft of the proposed stores. It would seem likely that a store in a market of 22,000 will not have the same revenue as one in a large metropolitan area.
They also should be reminded that just because MURCZA may ALLOW 20 per acre and 150K sq ft, Heber does NOT have to allow these maximums. The project should be built to conform with the general plan AND the wishes of the community. The vote, while legally binding, represented less than 23% of the registered Heber voters and barely 10% of County voters.

Hardly an overwhelming mandate!!

ALL county residents WILL be affected by this development.

Recommended/required for all concerned:
  • The MURCZ code itself (Voter Info pamphlet)
Previous posting on this blog may also be helpful.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Big Box Advertisement response

In response to the full page 10/10/07 ad in the Wasatch Wave (one of a $$$ series), I offer this response:

MIXED UP Chaos Zone

So why would someone like me vote AGAINST the proposed Mixed Use Big Box ordinance?

10 Shopping Convenience: Many Heber Valley residents enjoy an occasional shopping trip to the "big city" only to return to the rural, small town in which they enjoy living.

9 More Time With the Family: If you are spending two trips a week solely to shop in Provo, you may need to either plan better, shop locally or take the family with you.

8 A Stronger Local Economy: Generating a large customer base to support Big Boxes will only cause MORE Growth to feed the incipient beast sending revenues out of the valley.

7 Improved Roads: How in the world does drastically increasing traffic into the most congestion intersection in the Valley improve roads? That congestion may even eat up the suggested saved "time with the family" with local traffic delays.

6 More Money for Education: Sure, there may be some increase in property tax - which will be OFFSET by the education costs of the NEW High Density development allow in the new zone - 20 units per acre or 200 to 300 units stacked 55 ft high, (or 300 new children at $4,000 education cost each or $1.2 Million - for starters.) How much DID your taxes increase this year?

5 A Better Environment?: MORE traffic, MORE emissions, MORE pollution and LESS rural and small town, which the community has said for years is our desire.

4 Additional Restaurants: Will this offset the "Family Dinner Day"? (Eat with your children and save the family resolution) Are more Fast Foods NEEDED?

3 It's the Wrong Time: Why fuel even more explosive growth? Is there never an end to expansion, if Heber City can't grow OUT must it grow UP? Or should it just 'grow up' and respect the community wishes.

2 More Money in your Wallet: The overestimated gas saving predicted will be offset by in INCREASED taxes to cover the extra costs of the proposed development. An annexation study (potential tax income) is NOT a fiscal IMPACT study (costs to the Heber/Wasatch County residents - Heber residents are also county taxpayers)

1 Voting AGAINST the Mixed Up Residential Chaos Zone will help maintain the small town desire clearly expressed by the community.

As always, call their comment line to listen to the circular recording and to have your telephone number collected.

It's a matter of choice - Big city vs. Small town We may already be too late for the "small" town can we at least try to avoid the CITY.

Regrettably, as a non Heber City resident I'm unable to vote on the issue in the upcoming election; hopefully my fellow County residents living inside Heber will not be swayed by thousands of dollars for a series of full page ads to promote a narrow self interest ($$$) but will speak for the community as a whole and reject this proposal!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Truth (?) Part 2

Allow me once again to attempt to explain Truth in Taxation. A hearing would not have been required if the School District had accepted the Certified Tax Rate, which would have allowed the same revenue to be collected as the prior year. By looking at individual property tax bills, each tax payer can see that, in general, most individual tax items apparently accepted the growth revenue increase and consequently many taxes went down or stayed about the same as the prior year. Only the property tax payment for the School District proposed very large increases. For each individual property, Heber City and Wasatch County’s portion of the property taxes $$ remained about the same. The assessed value went up, but the tax $$ remained the same! The “School Dist Bond” levy $$ increased in the area of 40 to 60% on individual tax notices. The “Wasatch Co. School Dist” item $$ increased about 25 to 35%.

The recent School Board letter states that RATES were maintained to . . . capture not only additional monies from growth, but ALSO MONIES FROM INCREASED ASSESSED VALUES.” Mr. Powell, in his letter, submits calculations again attempting to “prove” that the assessor/ment made them do it (raise taxes). However, he does admit to basings his calculations “from the proposed new tax rate.” Ladies and gentlemen, the School District raised their rates, which raised your taxes! This is, of course, their legal “right” to do, but Truth in Taxation “allow(s) elected officials to explain the reasons for the proposed increase.”
Second, let me compliment and thank the School District for adding their Email addresses to their website and for putting up the Hearing PowerPoint presentation. Contrary to Mr. Powell’s assertion that Ms. Taylor was inaccurate in mentioning the lack of email addresses; it appears that this information was posted AFTER the meeting. Now, as the Board is “happy to explain any item in our budget,” perhaps the budget could also be posted on the website, along with an itemization of what specific categories the increased revenues of $7 million (TnT notice) or $5 million (budget) will be used for.
Third, this reminds me that Mr. Powell was astounded that I did not mention that Mr. VanTassell, of the Utah Taxpayers, apologized for his “disingenuous” remark. (Disingenuous: “not straightforward or candid; giving a false appearance of frankness”) I am astounded that Mr. Powell did not report that I mentioned, in my brief remarks, that the tax increase seemed to be more like $5 million than $7 million and, I believe, that discrepancy in the amount was what Mr. VanTassell apologized for. As Mr. Powell has access to a tape recording of the meeting, perhaps he could check that. The CD that I tried to listen to was in a proprietary format that couldn’t be deciphered with the usual computer programs. If the school district chooses not to post the recording on their website, I’d be happy to do so - if I can obtain a working copy.
Finally, “Utah's "Truth in Taxation" laws are revenue-driven, not rate-driven. That means the requirement to hold a "Truth in Taxation" hearing is based upon the collections of a taxing entity, not the rate charged. Utah law requires "Truth in Taxation" hearings to be held when a taxing entity elects to collect more revenue than was collected the previous year, although the entities are permitted to keep revenues generated by "new growth" -- such as value added to the tax rolls from a new subdivision or a new business.”
I believe, this is the primary problem presented by most of last week’s letter writers (at least mine) - no explanation or justification was presented for the tax increase, except in the most general of terms. No budget numbers were presented. Not even an estimate of the total teacher salary could be readily given. Many questions were, and are, left unanswered. For example - What is the purpose of the increase from $3.4 to $4.2 million in Capital Projects? Why did the school bond taxes increase by 85% ($3.1 to $5.7 million) - if the total school building costs has decreased to a mere $10.95 per $100K (as reported by the Wave Education Writer or increased by that amount per Mr. Powell)? What is the proposed specific use of the “fund balance” which “has increased to a healthy level,” mentioned in the School Board letter? Why have the overall school expenditures increased by over 50% to $41,680,711 from 2004 to 2008 with a less than 10% increase in students? Oh, and how can a teacher salary increase of 3.5% be $2.6 million, with a current payroll of $11,000,000? (It was certainly interesting to read in the Salt Lake Tribune that there was a local increase above the state mandated one.) Why does the District continually proclaim we need to “keep up with the Joneses” (Park City)? Neither the two minutes allowed to ask questions nor the 45 minute formal “mil rate” presentation were sufficient to obtain answers - inquiring people would like to know.

I eagerly anticipate some answers, from Mr. Powell, any representative of the School District, or anyone else for that matter.

Friday, August 17, 2007

TRUTH (?) in Taxation

I took the opportunity to attend the “Truth in Taxation” for the proposed 49.34% in “School District property tax revenue for the prior year.” I’m sad to have to report that there were two major losers at that meeting - Wasatch County taxpayers and the TRUTH.

To no one’s surprise, the tax increase was passed unanimously by the school board. Many in attendance felt the School Board was as confused as the audience. The hearing began with an archaic, involved and totally irrelevant dissertation on tax, or mil, rates. Nine basic levies, certified rates, maximums, minimums, assessments, etc.; the end result being "It’s not our fault, the assessor made us do it.” People actually wanted to hear about DOLLARS, tax revenues, school expenditures, and, particularly, individual property tax payments!

An overview of the historical budget can be found here. 2004 to 2008 = 55% increase in school expenditures, with a 9% increase in students.

Continuing with the fairy tale presented by the Wave Education Writer (and District publicist) that, according to Superintendent Shoemaker, “the growth of (the) tax bill is reflective of an increase in property value;” school officials carefully tried to place the blame for higher taxes on the County Assessor and the increase in property values. Au contraire, dear school officials, the increase is due to the actions of the School Administration/Board in RAISING THE TAX RATE, which was the very reason for the hearing being held. Strike One on truth and the taxpayer.

Royce van Tassell, of the Utah Taxpayers Association publicly described the presentation as disingenuous. He may have been too kind. Through various machinations, manipulations, sleight of hand and outright chicanery, school officials concluded that “the total debt service (not just the high school) has dropped to $10.95 per hundred thousand dollars” as reported by the Wave Education Writer (does the Wave pay him for his articles?) and reiterated that idea at the meeting. Anyone with a modicum of math ability can look at their tax notice to determine the cost is closer to $100/per $100K; the increase alone from 2007 to 2008 is more than the $10.95. Strike Two against truth and the taxpayer.

Anyone fortunate enough to find a copy of the
debt fund budget can easily see that the (annual repayment) increased by 85% from 2007 to 2008. (See category 31- and also note that the Capital project fund increased by 25%) School officials explained that the "great reduction" resulted from lower rates and the fact they only borrowed $45 of the $60 million. They neglected to mention that the remaining $15 million will be accessed next year or that some of the excess tax revenues received in 2007 (through new growth) may have been used to pay down some debt. Nor did they mention that the Capital Project fund might be used to fund some of the school "frills" or pet projects. They also failed to mention that the first year of payment is apparently interest only (sounds like some current subprime loans)

And the wind up and the pitch . . . To massive adulation by many of the teachers present, we, the truth seekers were informed that the school district was awarding a 3.5% pay increase to the school teachers at a cost of $2.6 million to the district. State legislative officials at the meeting were unclear if the district was taking credit for the pay increase mandated and funded by the state or if the local district had funded an addition increase. However, when asked for an estimate of the total payroll, (10, 20 or 80 million??), school officials were unable to come up with an a ready estimate. The figure, according to the 2007 budget, was $10,669,428. (Page 5, item 131) 3.5 % of that is $373,000 NOT $2.6 million. Stee-rrriiicke THREE, you’re OUT of here. Truth and taxpayers lose!

There was more, of course, mostly equally embarrassing. The final question from the audience, “If you are increasing taxes by 50%, why are teachers only getting 3.5% increase?” While somewhat an apple and orange comparison the answer given by a school board member, ‘well. 39% of the 7 million is going to the salary increase.’ Presumably the aforementioned erroneous $2.6 million (sometimes mentioned as 2.7) was divided by the $7 million for THAT 39% result.

A teacher testified that the school was making vast improvements through vertical and horizontal collaboration and the recent understanding that they needed to focus on what was being learned rather than what was being taught.

(It might be noted that Wasatch scored quite poorly in math in UPASS Considering Albert Einstein's comment
Example isn't another way to teach, it is the only way to teach judging from the mathematical prowess exhibited at this meeting, perhaps we've found the reason.)

Recently graduated student Jeremy Heftel may defy that mathematical mold; he exhibited more understanding by his comments than most of the others at the meeting seemed to have.

In the middle of the public discussion, the audience was entertained by a commercial interruption of a Boyer Co. development representative extolling the tax benefits of their proposed development.

Many from the public decried the lack of information provided at the meeting and on the website. Particularly missing was budget information and even addresses or contacts for the Board members. As witnessed by the links above in this blog, it is not difficult to provide the public with budget information. If anyone wants the full 29 pages, it could be easily posted AND at NO COST!!!

Several people attempted to determine the total cost of the new High School, but were told the information was not available yet.

Oh, by the way, in the latter part of the meeting the contracts for the School Superintendent and Business Administrator were approved, no mention of a pay increase.

Wait, there's more, but my cynicism meter has pegged out, so
I conclude on a positive note. The School Board promised to include some Email addresses on the website . . . . but indicated they may not consistently read them.

All is well in Wasatch. . . . .

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New High school over budget??

Ogden School District grapples with a $40 million shortfall, with plenty of projects in the pipe - excerpt:

Ogden district isn't alone.

Wasatch School District voters approved a $59.5 million bond in November 2006. The district estimated $50 million to construct its new high school and $9.5 million for the land purchase and furniture.

Bids are still coming in and could be decided in mid-June. But Wasatch district officials believe the total will be much higher than was originally projected.

"All of us (school districts) are going through sticker price shock," said Wasatch Superintendent Terry Shoemaker.

"Cost of square footage has gone up in the last few months," Shoemaker said. "It doesn't take a genius to know part of it is gas and diesel prices making construction costs go up."

He said the district hopes it won't have to cancel its new high school project in Heber City. Instead, officials will look at economizing on materials or cutting back on square footage.

Wasatch district is using architect and construction companies different from those Ogden district is using. "We are talking about economic forces at work here -- not bad data," Shoemaker said.

Monday, February 26, 2007

An Open Letter to Heber City Council

The Heber Big Box issue was recently on KSL Click here: broadcast on KSL!!!

Dear Heber City Council members,

Some momentous decision are apparently soon to be made on two items which will have a lasting and unchangeable effect on the Heber Valley. The removal of the cap on retail business (Big Box) and the approval of the Red Ledges development. I urge, in the strongest terms, that a slow and deliberate process be made in the consideration of these items.

Probably the best thing that has happened as a result of the proposed Red Ledges development is seeing the County and Heber City working together to attempt to solve mutual problems. One of the saddest things about that cooperation is that the solution seems to be more to the advantage of the developer than the consideration of the health, safety and welfare of the Heber Valley community as a whole.

The issue of density was apparently not considered in the Interlocal agreement, the developer’s proposal of 1370 was accepted as the maximum density allowed. The original allowed density was under 100 ERU's, as purchased, on the current county portion of the land.

A plan is being formulated by the County Conservation/Open Space committee and was planned to be implemented for this development. This was to be in coordination with all governmental entities in the valley and talks are reportedly being held to implement the plan. Under the plan, the open space mitigation fee structure for "zone changes," which would include Red Ledges, is being proposed as 12.5% of the lot value times the density increase.

The proposed mitigation fee in the Interlocal Agreement of $4.5 Million is off by a factor of over 10. At an approximate 750 increase in houses requested by the zone change, times $600K average lot price at 12.5% equals $56 Million. With the annexation approval this would now be limited to $4.5 Million. Is this to the benefit of the community or the developer?

As is generally agreed by everyone interested in this issue, the primary (if not sole) reason for the annexation petition by the developer was DENSITY. The primary (if not the sole) reason for consideration of the petition by Heber City was money - in proposed taxes and fees. The city has NOT done any independent analysis of the fiscal impact figures presented by the developer as was promised by Heber City Manager (see podcast of interview with Mark Anderson labeled "city part I" and "city part II")

Many of the developer’s figures are suspect, in my opinion, and overestimated in the developer's favor. At the very least, an analysis needs to be done for a conservative impact of costs and benefits - to the City AND to the county, in general. ALL Heber City residents are also Wasatch County residents, but the City fiscal impact analyses generally ignore the County (and school) costs.

The Red Ledges project has little positive effect or benefit on the "health, safety and welfare" of the community as a whole, which is, or should be, the major deciding factor in these issues.

The Red Ledges developer extols three "benefits" on their website :

  • Money - taxes which may be overestimated and costs which may be underestimated.
  • Public Facilities - of which there may be a few for the community, a private golf course not included.
  • Prestige - Wasatch County is already World Class as proven by all of those desiring to come and those desiring to stay.

There are similar financial analysis problems with the new "unlimited’ mixed use zone and the proposed Boyer development. An analysis of these financial impacts - other than that presented by the developer - should be a MINIMUM requirement for approval consideration. I strongly urge you to revisit Heber’s $10,000 study on the Big Box - it was far from a ringing endorsement of the concept. The Dan Jones survey - including the comments - also needs to be read and heeded - not to mention listening to the strong opposition shown consistently and recently by your constituents.

I won't even mention the traffic issues, which have dominated the discussion so far and still have NOT been solved. The Boyer development will virtually destroy the current concept for the Western bypass. Red Ledges agreement apparently builds a road to nowhere.

In the final analysis, these projects are mainly about one thing - profit for the developer. At the Aug 14 2006 joint County City meeting, the County Manager wisely asked this rhetorical question: "Is it the government's responsibility to maximize the profit to someone that owns property or let them develop under guidelines that are socially compatible with the people that live here?"

The answer to that question, in my opinion, should be your guide to a decision to continue with the protest. To me the answer is clear; maximizing developer profit is not the responsibility of government; protecting the welfare and property rights of the community, as a whole, IS.
This is an opportune time to continue a discussion between all of the entities in the Heber Valley to work, in conjunction, to implement the various General Plans and attempt to retain the rural, small town environment that is cherished by the residents. I strongly urge you to do the right thing for the residents of your community.

Council people, the decision is yours now on both of these issues. Approval of either one will drastically change the face and future of this Valley, in ways not generally favored by the residents OR contemplated in the current Heber City and Wasatch County General Plans. Do the right thing, follow the wishes of the Heber Valley residents.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fear of Big Box - NOT ! ! !

A respect for the desires of the community, rather than "Fear of the Big Box," is what is motivating those "opposing" a Big Box. Someone opined in the Wave of the supposed "Fear" driving opposition.

A mere year and half ago the Heber City Council placed a cap on retail business at 60,000 sq. ft. in response to the expressed desires of the vast majority of the Heber Valley. This action followed a public hearing Jun 6, 2005; the public response was overwhelmingly in favor of the cap on retail business size. The minutes of that meeting can be found on Heber City’’s website.

Next week the Heber City Council will be considering eliminating that cap and raising the limit to 200,000 sq. ft. AND allowing 55 ft. high buildings (isn’’t that FIVE stories?) AND allowing a housing density of 30 dwelling units per acre of land.

Thousands of Heber citizens' tax dollars have been spent on a Dan Jones survey and a Big Box study on the issue. The survey of Heber, and other Wasatch County, residents clearly indicated they did not want (or need) a Big Box. More retail - yes! Big Box - NO!

Here are a few of the survey responses:

  • When asked in for an open answer (#6) "What do you like best about living in the Heber City are?" about 60% specifically responded with terms like "rural," "small town," "peaceful," "remoteness," and "beauty."
  • When asked (#7) for desired "major improvements," 28 % said "more shopping facilities." Reading the comments, one finds that means "mom and pop" stores, restaurants, movies, small retail stores, etc. - a mere 4% suggested a Big Box.
  • In answer to (#42) "What projects or services would you like," only 12% called for "more retail shopping" and, again, a mere 4% (9 out of 236) indicated a desire for a Big Box.
  • "How important is it to you that Heber City have that small-town character?" (#43) gets an astounding 89% answering IMPORTANT!!

The $10,000 big box study showed the pros and cons of the potential arrival of a big box in the valley; mostly negatives. The report indicated a net financial gain to Heber’’s coffers of less than $200,000 on estimated gross sales of $37 million - hardly a massive windfall.

The Heber City General Plan clearly calls for promoting MAIN STREET business: "Main Street is the economic, architectural and historical heart of the community. The most powerful and lasting image associated with Heber City is Main Street. " "Promote downtown as a distinctive shopping area emphasizing it as an attractive meeting place and staging area for festivals, special events, celebrations and a variety of community activities."

The actual law capping the size of retail buildings includes the wording "Attempts to circumvent or exceed this maximum, 60,000 square feet, shall be strictly prohibited." This wording is in ALL of the commercial zones. I leave it to the Heber citizens to determine the meaning of those statements.

All of these reports are available on Heber City’’s website. I wish everyone would read them - especially the City Council, before they make a decision. Is this proposed increase being done for the "health, safety and welfare of the community" our, in other words, for the benefit of the Heber Valley as a whole; or is it merely another benefit being freely offered to developers (out of town ones, at that).

Fear of Big Box - no, I don’’t think so. Respect for the desires of the community - priceless.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Red Ledges Fiscal Impact Analysis - A Pig in a Poke???

It’s axiomatic that developers and promoters will use numbers to prove and promote their particular project. This appears to be the case with Red Ledges. Is it really the Cash Cow some in the Heber City Government expect??

Heber City Revenue

For the Heber City Tax revenue the study apparently uses a proposed SALE price as the assessed value. These sales prices are, at best, an estimate - probably optimistic at that. While tax value assessment is supposedly equal to "market" value, houses in the valley currently offered for sale at $600K often carry an assessment of about $300K. Therefore, it could be concluded that the tax revenues predicted by using the anticipated sales price may be inflated by a factor of TWO.

It is not clear whether the tax computation separates the land value from the house value. The general Fund revenue would then be $870K rather than $1,750K. The net benefit to the general fund would then be a negative $250K - rather than +$625.

School Costs

School Children are computed at 0.51 per household for a total of 699 students; the County uses 0.8 yielding 1096 students.

***To determine the number of school age children, wouldn't it be logical to divide the number of school children (~4300) by the number of primary homes (total minus the number of secondary homes) - for a school children per house ratio and then multiply by the number of houses in the development or use households: 4000/4743 = 0.84 (2000 enrollment guess and census households) or 4300/18974 * 3.18 = 0.72 (2005 pop.)
(A computation of Timp Meadows showed about 1.6 students/household a few years ago)

Red Ledges study uses 2005 figures and does NOT include the new High School bond which raises the per student cost by $150 (?)

NCES figures show local share of education costs at $3305/student.
1096 students @ $3305 = $3,620,000 Education Cost

Including the increase from the new bond cost 1096 @$3450 = $3,800,000

School Tax generated based on the factor of TWO overestimate would yield $4,500K

Net Results

The net benefit to Heber City indicated in the fiscal report ($625K city + $6,900K school ) appears to be overstated and the more conservative figures might be -$250K and $700K.

The report indicates that the School District is able "to accommodate this proposed increase" indicating that the current taxpayer have, or will be, paying for the current "excess" capacity. A more rational scenario would be for the development to pay for one additional high School (current $60 million for 1500 students = $40M) one Junior High, ($10M); one Middle school ($8M), and on elementary ($7M) to educate the 1000 children brought with the development. (total $65M or $4700 per unit).

The figures also represent amounts at build-out which may be 10 - 20 years and is base on current cost rather than the additional costs which will be created by service required by the development. It does not seem to include the increase in infrastructure cost to the County (e.g. new roads - widening Center St. or Bypass, which would be required to handle the increased traffic; police protection, etc.).

Friday, October 27, 2006

Property TAXES

With the arrival in the mail of the 2006 tax notices, residents can now compute their potential individual annual payment for the new High School Bond.

The indicated rate is about $78/$100K of "Taxable Value," which can be found just above the middle of the Tax Notice. Multiply that value. divided by $100,000, (e.g. for $250,000, multiply be 2.5) by $78 to get your tax increase, should the bond be passed.

Or for a rough figure, your taxes (County resident) will increase by about 8%. For city residents, it's about 7.2%

You may also notice that your current payment for Wasatch County Schools is about 60 to 65% of your total Property Tax bill AND 100% of your STATE INCOME TAX.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

WOW, what did they miss?

After unsuccessfully asking for more detailed information plans about the new High School, they've been found.

For those interested the new proposed $60 million High School, more detailed school plans are available at the Wasatch School website. Click on the various "levels" for PDF files (large, allow a few minutes to download). The plans can then be enlarged for greater detail, to see what the individual rooms are being used for.

Would you believe? (all estimated areas at 1" =16 ft at 200% magnification):

  • Indoor baseball practice about 25 x 80 = 2000 sq.ft. @$150+/sq.ft. = $300,000+
  • "Little Theater/Drama" 2000 sq.ft. (in addition to the auditorium)
  • Varsity Weight room 3200 sq.ft. = $480,000+
  • Three Basketball courts
  • 4,000 sq.ft. of "news set & production studio"
  • Racquetball court
  • 8+ offices in the athletic area
  • A "Student Government" room
  • 5 "team room locker"
  • Ever cognizant of gender equality, there's also a 2000 sq.ft. "cheer/dance" area
  • There are 50 + classrooms, too
    What ever happened to the swimming pool?
  • Look for yourself and decide - WANTS or Needs?

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    Latest Survey comments

    14 responses today (10/9) - ALL in favor (5) One did say the price was too high and one was only "somewhat in favor," and 4 or 5 were through the Utah Educator Network IP; with the request for comments, many were posted - however the last one reverted to true from - "It's outdated"

    "standard answer" = (generally) Strongly support, the price is just right, location is great, sell old school. It surprising how many do not know how much the taxes will be. Answers range from a high of $1,000/yr to "not a doesn't matter! Education does!" (comments added below)

    Thanks for participating. ; - )

    2006-10-09 04:52:01 5 (strongly support) ***price too high *** Get the school off Main Street. Build a new high school big enough for future growth. $50.00 (A lot of comments on growth, why not just manage growth?)

    2006-10-09 07:53:14 standard answer

    2006-10-09 07:59:47 UEN? 5 ***just right *** Students need a clean, up to date learning environment. Just the necessary work needed to update wiring for computers is overwhelming. Labs should be current with up to date materials. The size of the school also needs to be exapanded to support the growth in our valley. $ not a doesn't matter! Education does! (How much work to do the wiring and who is doing it? Students may have some hands on learning by doing. How much work or cost will wiring the new school be?)

    2006-10-09 08:07:49 UEN standard answer Wasatch county is growing at a rapid rate. When new poeple move into a community it is necessary to provide new facilities for them,i.e. schools, roads annd even new stop lights ( and more roads, and schools and stoplights and . . . Who should pay for them? current residents or those creating the need?)

    2006-10-09 08:22:26 UEN std answer My children will be attending the high school in this valley, and I would like a structurally sound building for them to attend. By the time my children attend, this high school will be severly over crowded. $250 My high school had a nursery that the students could work in; it helped me make my decision about going into education. *** A gym is necessary. *** This is a great district and a great place to be. As a community we need to support (in every way) the education of the future generation.

    2006-10-09 09:18:52 std ans explosive population growth

    2006-10-09 09:40:58 UEN std ans A new high school will allow the district to better educate our children. As an example, science labs and computer labs are virtually non-existant in the current high school. A new facility will help us stay competitive educationally. *** As I understand the current plan, I feel they have included all essential elements. *** The benefits of the new facility. They are emphasizing the educational benefits of a new school. (You may have a point on the labs, is it possible to provide without a $60 million school?)

    2006-10-09 10:33:50 std ans Our children deserve facilities as good as other high schools. It is a very difficult job for the teachers to try to give comparable educational opportunities without the facilities necessary to do so. They need space to fully explore the arts, and music and sciences. *** Big cafeteria and commons area to keep students on campus during lunch! *** I think our teachers are doing a fabulous job despite the poor facilities. If we want to attract the best teachers we have to offer them great facilities also. ("as good as" or better than all others?)

    2006-10-09 10:43:38 UEN std ans The facilities and classrooms at the high school are inadequate for student needs (e.g. limited science labs, computer labs poor heating system, holes in the roof, etc), there are safety and evacuation concerns, the old school can't handle the growth the county is experiencing. *** Our biggest asset in this county is our children. We must invest in them now in order to get great returns later. (DUPLICATED - was it deemed that important, or simply trying to skew the poll, or merely an error?)

    2006-10-09 11:15:54 4 A new high school is necessary due to the delapidated state of the old school and the growth occuring in Wasatch County. *** I have some hesitation about the high school. For the cost, $59.5 million, I think we should be including a new rec / aquatic center as well. *** $1,000 *** I have some hesitation about the high school. For the cost, $59.5 million, I think we should be including a new rec / aquatic center as well. *** Wasatch county is a fast growing community. We need to recognize this a be prepared for the future. Our kids are worth the $ to not only build a new high school but also include a rec / aquatic center , to encourage and support them! (hesitation is good, do a little more analysis)

    2006-10-09 11:52:48 std ans Students working on sound or lighting are insturced not to touch the ceiling of the auditorium Why is that? well there are toxic things in that room. Things that are in the air that we breath. A new school would be for the best health of all who enter there. $I don't know *** I think it is about time we are building a new school. You have my support (If there are toxic things, why aren't the corrected? Where is the maintenance budget?)

    2006-10-09 11:53:53 std ans Wasatch County has a notoriously bad reputation when it comes to education. This is driving talented people away from the community, in search of easily attainable and much better options for their kids. Improving the county starts with a committment to education, which is lacking today. *** Public opinion of the county's commitment to education is that there is none. This reflects on the community as a whole, leaving the perception that our government and citizens are shortsighted and unsophisticated. Changing thisperception will benefit the county greatly over the long-term. (And you truly believe a new school is the answer to all edcucation problems?)

    2006-10-09 14:11:51 std ans We need new facilities. Curent one is far out dated. $800.00 *** (A familar litany
    ! Shouldn't an $800 cost give cause for concern? That's high, by the way)