Tremonton city officials will not pursue a property tax increase for residents this year as they continue working on a staffing solution for a fire department that is being stretched thin due to growth.
In recent months, the city has been exploring solutions for full-time staffing at the fire department, which has traditionally relied on volunteers to handle fire and emergency calls for Tremonton and surrounding areas. Various scenarios had called for raising property taxes anywhere from 35 to 84 percent to pay for those new positions.
However, the Tremonton City Council last week decided to forgo a tax increase in favor of a plan to hire a full-time fire chief and one additional police officer at an annual cost of about $183,000, instead of hiring a full-time firefighter crew this year, which would have cost an estimated $888,000 annually and necessitated a 64 percent property-tax hike.
There are no records in Tremonton of a city-imposed property tax increase going back to at least the 1980s, and that streak will continue, at least for this year.
The new chief position will be tasked with finding creative solutions to handle a growing number of emergency calls, which make up the bulk of the fire department’s work.
A few members of the public showed up at last week’s city council meeting to speak out against a tax increase, and some councilmembers voiced their opposition as well.
“I’m not going to (vote to) raise taxes this year,” Councilmember Bret Rohde said. “I think we hire a fire chief and let them figure out how to make this work for a year. Maybe we can get some things going on recruiting. If we have them here 40 hours a week, we will be able to come up with what they need.”
Councilmember Lyle Vance said the city should be able to look into the budgets for each department and come up with the savings necessary to fund the fire department. He suggested an incentive program in which employees who come up with ways to save money would receive a portion of the cost savings as a bonus.
“I don’t think anything is frivolous, but I do believe everybody can take a look at their budgets and find ways to cut,” Vance said. “Pay them two percent of whatever they save, and there’s going to be ideas coming out of the woodwork.”
He said the timing of a property tax increase wouldn’t be good right now since Tremonton residents are already paying higher property taxes due to a county reassessment of the area last year, and are also paying more for water with the installation of the new secondary water system — all of which is happening in the midst of an economic downturn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need to go backwards and say we’ve done all we can as a city to cut expanses before we go out and ask the citizens to pay more taxes, especially with the water changes and county doing their adjustment last year,” he said.
As the fire department continues to see the number of calls for emergency responses increase every year, the city council will likely have to revisit the staffing issue next year, and some say the property tax question is likely to be on the table in the future.
“Safety has to be number one,” Councilmember Connie Archibald said. “I think eventually we’ll have to move in this direction. Tremonton is going to have to hire some people to take care of our safety.”
Mayor Roger Fridal said that while the eventual solutions might be painful, “we’ll come up with what we think is best for Tremonton.”