SALT LAKE CITY — Dozens of Utah cities, school districts and other municipal entities are considering property tax increases that, if all approved, could result in residents paying millions more in taxes.
Hearings on the proposals began last week and will continue throughout August.
Reasons for the proposed hikes vary from city to city. Many officials highlighted a need to beef up public safety and make capital improvements, and said they had avoided raising taxes for years during the recession.
But Billy Hesterman of the Utah Taxpayers Association said property owners should question officials.
"I think that every city has something in the budget that could be cut," Hesterman said. "There's always certain projects or certain things that get funded that might be nice but aren't necessary."
Ogden is looking at a $2.4 million property tax revenue increase to bring salaries for police officers and firefighters closer to those of neighboring cities, said Janene Eller-Smith, City Council deputy director.
At one point, Eller-Smith said, the city had 20 open positions on the police force and knew of an additional 35 officers threatening to leave due to low salaries.
"We just couldn't afford to lose that many police officers," she said.
An average Ogden homeowner whose residence is valued at $199,000 could see their property tax increase by $75.08 per year due to the increase.
Despite "sniping on social media," Eller-Smith said, "the fact is Ogden city hasn't had a tax increase in 30 years."
In North Salt Lake, city officials are raising property taxes for the first time in at least 20 years to hire two new police officers, according to City Manager Barry Edwards.
More police are needed because of the improving economy and North Salt Lake's location at the "choke point" of Utah's north-south highways and railroads, which creates opportunity for traffic accidents and general "mischief," Edwards said.
"When the economy fell down and property values sank in North Salt Lake, we didn't raise rates because we knew people were struggling and couldn't afford it," Edwards said. "But as we've had growth come back, we just have more people and we need to service those people."
A typical North Salt Lake homeowner with a property value of $302,000 can expect to see property taxes increase from $245 to $269.41.
Midvale is looking at its first property tax hike since 2010 to increase the city's revenue by $1.4 million, in part to pay for increased costs in the city's contract with the Unified Police Department, said assistant city manager Laurie Harvey.
A chunk of the additional tax revenue will go toward improving roads, according to Harvey, about two-thirds of which are "below desired condition."
Homeowners with a property valued at the countywide average of $259,000 could expect to see their property taxes increase from $114.24 to $199.15.
Midvale isn't the only city with deteriorating roads. Elk Ridge is looking at a 106 percent tax increase to make what mayor Hal Shelley calls "major road repairs."
Shelley said he and the City Council started out with a far longer list of significant needs.
"We started out at 196 percent and we cut out this, we cut out that, we just kept paring it down as much as we can," he said.
If the full tax increase is approved — something Shelley said is unlikely — a typical resident with a home value of $286,700 could expect to see their property tax jump from $343.75 to $708.01.
"We wanted to let the city residents have some idea what the needs were, what the true costs could be over time, and then we'll make some decisions based on their input as well," he said.
New growth and an improving economy spurred other cities and school districts to fix aging buildings.
In Woods Cross, city officials want to increase property tax revenue by 45 percent to fund a new public works building. On a $235,000 home in Woods Cross, owners can expect taxes to rise from $109.60 to $160.14, said Woods Cross city administrator Gary Uresk.
City officials have wanted to replace the current building for years, according to Uresk, but they held off after the recession hit.
"Now that the economy's up and things are looking better, we felt now is a good time to do it," he said.
Some school districts are also asking property owners to contribute more. Cache County School District officials approved a property tax hike last week that will raise $1.5 million in additional revenue to help fund the district's third high school.
And the Salt Lake City School District approved a tax increase to pay for building repairs and construction costs for the district. Residents who own a $259,000 home can expect to see their property tax increase from $869.66 to $880.34.
Some cities are looking to increase property tax collections through a judgment levy. That's a way for cities to make up tax revenue shortages as a result of companies that successfully appealed changes to their property value.
West Valley City is proposing to raise property taxes to cover $400,000 in judgment levy adjustments and $2 million in new personnel costs, health care costs and police department pay increases, according to West Valley finance director James Welch.
He said the most recent increase in operational expenditures was about five years ago. The city is "just trying to keep up with the costs of staying in business," Welch said.
The average homeowner with a $259,000 home can expect to see his or her property tax increase from $548.57 to $602.99.
Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake City Library are also increasing property taxes to make up for about $600,000 in judgment levy adjustments.