The City Council raised utility taxes 1 percent Tuesday night and then passed a 1994-95 budget that will use the new revenue to hire nine additional police officers.
The tax increase, which will affect telephone, gas, electricity, water and sewer bills, will cost most residents between $1 and $2 a month. Hardest hit will be large utility users like Brigham Young University, Provo School District and churches. The increase will cost BYU between $60,000 and $100,000 a year."I think this is the fairest tax because it will be shared by everyone," Councilman Dennis Hall said.
The increase will bring the city about $600,000 a year in new revenue. Nine new police officers will cost the city about $445,000. The remaining revenues will go to staff a new fire station that the new budget will finance in west Provo. Only one resident spoke against the tax increase at Tuesday's meeting, and Mayor George Stewart said few residents protested.
"I'm supportive of this, but I'm supportive of it because of what it's going to buy us," Stewart said. "I don't believe residents like paying more taxes, but I believe they want more public safety."
According to information gathered by the council's budget committee, police calls have increased from about 24,000 in 1983 to more than 60,000 last year. During that same time the police force increased from only 60 officers to 72. Of 340 cities with a population of more than 50,000, Provo ranks last in officers per 1,000 residents.
Council members Shari Holweg and Jim Daley agreed that increased police protection is needed, but both voted against the tax increase. Holweg said residents should benefit from the thriving economy and the money could be found elsewhere in the budget. She suggested removing a $400,000 allocation for remodeling the council chambers to house a new justice court.
"I don't really view it as a priority," she said.
Hall said the justice court will return revenue to the city in the way of fines and traffic school fees and should be considered an investment, not a remodeling project. The city should not use reserves to hire the new officers because it needs to build up $2 million in matching funds for the proposed interchange in south Provo, he said.
"It doesn't make good business sense to dip into savings to pay for an expense that you're going to have every year," Hall said.
Councilwoman Jane Carlile said Holweg's concerns were a little late and her alternatives should have been mentioned during earlier budget talks. She favored the increase because of the benefit to all residents.
"Those who are least likely able to pay for it are the ones who favor it," she said.
The approved budget also returns about $115,000 to the Provo Library Board. The proposed budget took that money away, but library officials convinced council members and the mayor that the Legislature's intent was for that money to go to libraries.
The $77 million budget calls for spending about $6.5 million on capital improvement projects. About $5 million will be spent on improvement projects in the waste water, water, airport and energy departments. More than $1 million is earmarked for street and sidewalk improvements and about $800,000 for park projects. The general fund budget calls for expenditures of more than $23 million, an increase of about $2 million.
Daley said this year's budget process was the first he could remember that equally involved residents, council members and the administration.
"I think we're finally getting that balance in government that we need," he said.