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West Jordan City Council considering property tax increase

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WEST JORDAN — Residents could see their first property tax increase in nearly 25 years as city leaders run out of options on how to address the needs of a growing population amid dwindling revenue.

The City Council is considering raising the city's portion of property taxes by as much as 17 percent — or $42 per year for a $225,000 home — according to city spokeswoman Kim Wells. The council is expected to take action on the issue by June 22, when an approved budget or an official intent to exceed the current tax rate is due by the county. Should the council choose to pursue a tax increase, a Truth in Taxation hearing will be schedule in August before a final vote on an increase is taken.

The mayor of neighboring Taylorsville City also proposed a property tax increase last month. If passed, it would be that city's first increase since 2006 and second since the city's incorporation in 1996.

While West Jordan has increased fees and added a telecommunications tax, city property taxes have not increased since Aug. 4, 1988. In that time, population has more than doubled, from 43,000 in 1990 to more than 103,712 in 2010, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

That growth, Wells said, has necessitated increased city services like parks, facilities, police and fire protection. But due in part to the recession, West Jordan has seen a decrease of approximately $2.7 million in sales-tax revenue each year since 2008. Full-time city employees have been reduced from 423 to 388.

"They've put this off for as long as they can," Wells said. "We've cut back everywhere we can, this is just the next step. We're pretty lean, especially in terms of police officers on the streets."

West Jordan considered a 28 percent tax hike in 2008 that was ultimately abandoned after vocal opposition by residents. Wells said this time around, public response has been minimal.

"I was expecting more angst, but a lot of people are very understanding of the need for this," she said. "They seem willing to consider an increase."

Mayor Melissa Johnson said there's always some opposition, but the majority of residents she's heard from understand there are legitimate reasons for a tax hike. She said she hopes to involve as many residents in the process as possible by holding public meetings and educating citizens on what is being proposed.

She also emphasized that no decisions have been made and city leaders are in the early stages of considering an increase.

"We will have opportunity to receive feedback from the community at every juncture," she said. "The time for public comment is just beginning."

Johnson, whose term began in 2010, said she was opposed to the 2008 tax increase. She said that proposal, at the beginning of the recession, would have raised taxes as a first step to address budget shortfalls. But now, the city is running out of options.

"We're facing a different scenario now than we have in the past," Johnson said.

Johnson said that if passed, the tax increase would initially go toward public safety — specifically the hiring of police officers — and other essential services. She said the city has not been able to fund growth with shrinking sales-tax revenue and is facing a scenario that would require a long-term cost increase or a deterioration of city services.

"If we don't address this issue, we will start to see declining property values and an increase in crime," she said.

Taylorsville Mayor Wall has also expressed a desire to increase the police presence in the city, renewing a call for Taylorsville to join the Unified Police Department as a cost-saving measure.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com