City council approves increase in property taxes to fund UPD budget increaseSep 04, 2022 10:26AM ● By Sara Milano
By Sara Milano | [email protected]
On Aug. 8, the Millcreek City Council and members of the public convened for the city’s state-mandated truth in taxation hearing. This process, established by the Utah State Legislature, requires city and county governments who want to raise taxes to host a public hearing and provide advance notice to taxpayers before voting on the issue.
The hearing came together in advance of a proposed 4.57% increase in property taxes for Millcreek residents. After opening up the floor to public comment on the issue, all five council members voted to approve the ordinance. For a home valued at $653,000, homeowners will experience an increase from $498.86 to $521.84 annually in property taxes. Businesses (which are subject to a higher tax rate than residences) will see their yearly property taxes increase from $907.02 to $948.81 on a property valued at $653,000.
The hearing began with a presentation from the city’s Finance Director Laurie Johnson. Johnson detailed the changes to Millcreek’s budget and described how city officials arrived at the decision to raise property taxes. She described the council’s goal to “keep this as low as we possibly can and still keep the city in good financial shape.”
The tax increases were devised as a way for the city to afford Millcreek’s $15.3-million contract with the Unified Police Department, the cost of which has increased 19.5% from the previous year. The majority of the $3 million increase is for compensation for officers in the form of an annualized pay raise.
Millcreek will come up with the $15 million for UPD’s contract using a hybrid source of property taxes, energy sales and use tax, and general fund balance (the city’s “rainy day fund” from budgeting). If the city’s projections for tax revenues hold up, they estimate “maybe a 3% increase in property taxes to keep everything going” will be necessary for the following year.
Mayor Jeff Silvestrini sympathized with residents, stating, “We aren’t happy about it either…but we do have a responsibility…to you and the other residents of our community to provide important services, and I think most of us agree that there is no more important service we provide than law enforcement.”
He explained that after struggling to recruit police officers last year, Salt Lake City began offering a signing bonus and pay increase for new officers. This caused a jump in regional police salaries that all but forced UPD to adapt to wage increases.
Several residents commented on the matter, many of whom supported the increase in UPD’s budget and officer salaries. Millcreek resident Dennis Watson reiterated the importance of public safety, saying, “If we are not safe, nothing else matters.”
However, Watson implored council members to find another way to raise funds. “There have to be some cuts someplace, something has to give. We are in a recession, it’s going to get worse, prices are going to go up, this is just the first of many efforts that are going to have to be made to balance a budget,” he said.
One other potential solution raised was to cut the number of police officers working in Millcreek. The current contract includes salaries for 61 officers. Some argue that Millcreek, which has a population of just over 60,000 people, does not need this many full-time officers, especially given the fact that crime in the greater Salt Lake region has decreased.
One such resident, Eric Hershel, stood up to voice his opposition to Millcreek’s increased investment in armed police officers. Hershel clarified that he was “not opposed to the increased property tax nor for that matter [is he] opposed to police officers being paid a fair wage,” but that he was “not in favor of such a heavy reliance on police for a community that does not have serious crime problems, despite what you may hear.”
Hershel asked the council to explore alternatives to policing, suggesting implementing a citizen response team of unarmed specialists who respond to mental health incidents. According to Hershel, these incidents that involve people experiencing homelessness or non-violent mental health matters make up about 30% of the calls police respond to. When armed police officers without training in mental health crises respond to these calls, the situation can escalate and turn violent quickly, he said.
The increased property tax will likely create an unequal financial burden for first-time homeowners or small businesses, who are already adjusting to the increasing cost of living in Utah. Whether or not residents agree that funding police is the modality of choice for combatting public safety threats, Millcreek in coming years will be forced to reckon with the region’s booming population and the robust debate on these issues that is sure to follow.