An 85 percent hike in property taxes may be in store for property owners following a 4-1 vote by the City Council Tuesday.
The council rejected a "hold-the-line" budget proposal by Mayor James Warr, instead opting for a budget the majority of members say moves beyond the band-aid approach the city has used during the past five years.About 100 residents attending Tuesday's 2 1/2-hour public hearing appeared to be evenly divided on the issue that would raise taxes on a $70,000 house about $60 per year or $5 per month.
The council must formally adopt the amended tentative budget at its June 19 meeting for use as the city's operating budget beginning July 1. A public hearing Aug. 2 has been set by the council to formally consider the tax increase and make a final decision in accordance with the state's truth-in-taxation law.
The feelings of those supporting the increase, which would provide Riverton with $193,923 over the mayor's proposed $2.02 million budget, were described by resident Bruce Lawrence. "Riverton is a city with its own identity; it is not a bedroom city to Salt Lake.
"We need to maintain our city assets and prepare for the growth (that is coming) to preserve our identity," Lawrence continued. "We've had a piecemeal approach in the city for years and now we are paying for it. A tax increase is inevitable, and we need it. The services we have now are not maintaining the assets of our community at an adequate level."
His sentiments were echoed by Neil Spencer who said the proposed increase represents fiscal responsibility on the part of the council. "We're not doing anyone a favor by postponing (a tax increase)."
Reed Thomas said those opposing the move are reiterating their position from last year when 200 residents jammed City Hall to protest a proposed 86 percent property tax hike. Following that meeting the council voted against the tax hike.
Thomas said numbers being presented by the council this year to justify the increase are not consistent with those used last year, especially concerning road improvements. He noted that estimates for road improvements have escalated by nearly $900,000 in one year.
"Why is there this difference? Didn't you study this last year?" Thomas questioned. "If you don't know how much it is going to cost, I'm not going to give you the money."
Former council member Gaylord Johnson, who has pushed the council to implement a series of small tax increases over the past eight years, said such a large increase at one time is not justified. He said he could support a smaller increase but urged the council to include building the city's reserve account as part of the tax increase package. He noted the city had nearly $1.5 million in reserves eight years ago but that fund is now nearly exhausted.
Warr pleaded with the council to give his proposed budget a chance. He said since taking office in January he has been able to make spending changes that have offset an $80,000 deficit in the current budget while proposing a balanced budget for the coming year that would provide increases for most city departments and a 4 percent pay raise for city employees.
Councilman Wilson Svedin said the mayor's proposed budget failed to meet critical city needs, especially in the area of roads, and that waiting another year could only worsen the problem. He said Warr's proposal falls short of meeting the city's needs.
Svedin was joined by council members Terry Wright, Steve Brooks and Raquel Ohmie in supporting the tax increase. Wright, Svedin and Brooks were members of the council last year when the proposed 86 percent tax hike was defeated.