A proposal to raise property taxes will be presented to voters in unincorporated Salt Lake County next May, which gives them the option of paying more to build new fire stations and buy new equipment.
County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi announced the special bond election Monday morning, saying higher taxes are needed to keep firefighters from being trapped inside collapsed stations during an earthquake and to keep equipment from breaking while fighting routine fires."If everyone out there could tour these facilities, this would pass without any trouble," he said.
The proposal calls for a $13.7 million general-obligation bond over 10 years. Horiuchi said the owner of a $100,000 house would pay $13 to $15 more per year in property taxes.
The money would fund replacement or renovation of seven stations that are likely to collapse in an earthquake. The stations are old, are constructed of unreinforced masonry, and some of them are in earthquake liquefaction areas.
Part of the money would replace an aging fire fleet. Horiuchi said 31 percent of the county's fleet should have been replaced this year. Another 4 percent is due for replacement next year.
Horiuchi noted the county has not raised property taxes since the mid-1980s. Voters approved a bond to build a new jail, but the county never raised taxes to build it. County officials already were anticipating a tax increase during the county's annual budget sessions in November.
"We have to do this bond election, otherwise we'll have to face a bigger tax increase in November," Horiuchi said. He said he prefers allowing county voters to decide whether to raise taxes.
"Clearly, the residents deserve a direct voice in the spending of such large sums of money, rather than rely on the gut feel of politicians or a . . . public opinion poll."
Since assuming office in January, Horiuchi has tried to consolidate the county's Fire Department with Salt Lake City's. Little progress has been made. The bond proposal would build new fire stations close to the border with Salt Lake City - stations that might not be needed if the departments merged.
Horiuchi said he hopes the bond election will spur a merger. "Wouldn't it be a lot smarter if we could decide the location of fire stations in conjunction with Salt Lake City?" he said.
County Fire Chief Larry Hinman said he supports the bond, noting that the county's east bench could experience the kinds of fires that currently are sweeping hills near Oakland, Calif. Horiuchi and Hinman promised to use computer programs to determine where to build the stations.
"We're not going to spend one dollar of taxpayer money until we're sure the fire stations are in the right place," Hinman said.