Tremonton officials are likely to decide next week whether they will pursue an increase in property taxes to help pay for the hiring of more firefighters in the city.
For the past several weeks, city staff and council members have been discussing ways to find more revenue to beef up staffing at the fire department, which is seeing a steady increase in emergency calls due to growth in the area.
In May, City Manager Shawn Warnke told the council that a 21% increase in the city’s property tax rate would ensure that the fire department would be staffed with full-time employees at all times to handle the growth in demand for fire services. At that rate, the average homeowner would pay about $70 more in annual property taxes.
After delving deeper into the budget, Warnke said some potential cost savings in other areas could bring that increase down to somewhere between 9% and 12%, but an increase in property tax would still likely be the best avenue to address an ongoing shortfall in the city’s fire budget and allow the department to bring in more help.
“The fire department is a perfect candidate for property tax because it’s related to public safety and the protection of property,” he said. “It’s just one of those expenses where you don’t make money.”
Increasing property taxes by 10% would mean the average homeowner would pay about $33 more annually, he said.
Since joining the department in late 2020 as the city’s first full-time, on-staff fire chief, Warnke said Robert LaCroix has been able to identify several areas where the department could realize significant cost savings, bringing the department’s estimated annual shortfall down from about $370,000 to around $200,000.
While the city has been seeing strong growth in sales tax revenue, Warnke said that’s not an ideal source of funding for the fire department or other fixed, ongoing costs because sales tax revenue fluctuates over time and isn’t always reliable.
Federal funds for COVID-19 relief are another option, but those are one-time funds that won’t be available further down the road to pay for ongoing expenses like firefighter salaries, he added.
For residents concerned about a possible property tax hike, Warnke said any increase in what they pay would be offset by “a different level of service” from the fire department.
“We would have full-time fire resources in house, which means they can respond a little quicker,” he said.
Any proposed increase in property taxes would have to go through the truth in taxation process, which requires a public hearing and a period to allow those who would be affected to comment on the proposal.
The city council’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 15, and Warnke said the council will need to decide by then whether to accept the county’s certified tax rate (the minimum amount of property tax it can charge) or move ahead with plans to raise property taxes.
After that, the city would still have until Aug. 17 to decide whether to go through the formal truth in taxation process.
“You need to decide by June 15,” he told the council. “Then if something terrific and wonderful happened, you could always fall back to the certified tax rate.”