By Katie McKellar
August 3, 2015
SALT LAKE CITY — South Salt Lake and Salt Lake City rank as the most expensive cities in Utah, according to a Utah Taxpayers Association report released Monday.
With 13 Utah cities considering property tax hikes this year, Utah’s tax watchdog released the report to provide residents a “snapshot” of what their local governments already cost as they weigh whether to support any tax increases, said Billy Hesterman, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.
“It’s important the taxpayers understand how much their city is spending and what that means to them in their daily lives,” Hesterman said. “Taxpayers need to remind city officials that the money they’re spending is money that is taken right out of the family budget.”
On average, Utah city governments collect $25 per $1,000 earned by residents, according to the report.
South Salt Lake tops the report’s “worst five” cities, with residents paying $64.26 for every $1,000 earned in 2014. Salt Lake City was second worst, collecting $43.66 for every $1,000.
Ogden, American Fork and Lindon followed as the report’s “worst five.”
Riverton ranks as Utah’s cheapest city to live, according to the report, collecting $9.71 for every $1,000 earned. Cottonwood Heights, West Haven, Kaysville and Holladay also ranked in the report’s “best five.”
Riverton Mayor Bill Applegarth attributed the city’s low ranking to hardworking city employees, a meticulous budgeting process and “concentration on spending, not revenue.”
Riverton does not charge its residents a property tax; only school and water districts do, Applegarth explained.
“We work really hard to be efficient and keep the cost of government down,” he said.
Lynn Pace, senior adviser to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, said the report is misleading because it “mixes up revenue with tax burden.” He pointed to the fact that Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake are both cities that receive a large amount of sales tax due to the massive influx of visitors who commute to both cities each day.
“It’s unfair for the report to take the dollar value of total receipts and accuse the city of imposing that burden on the residents,” Pace said. “It’s simply not true. They’re not doing the math right.”
He also said if Salt Lake City outsourced its police and fire departments, it could, like Riverton, eliminate its property tax.
Hesterman acknowledged during a news conference Monday that the report broadly covers cities’ taxes and fees without taking into account the variety of services each city provides.
For example, South Salt Lake pays for its own police and fire departments, but Riverton provides police and fire services through a contract with the Unified Police Department and the United Fire Authority, he said.
Nonetheless, Hesterman said the Utah Taxpayers Association urges elected officials seek ways to trim their city budgets and save money by privatizing extra services, such as recreational programs.
“We encourage the elected officials of these cities to look at their budgets this coming year and find ways they can trim and put money back into Utah families’ pockets,” he said.
The tax watchdog group released the report as 13 cities and several districts throughout Utah began holding public hearings this week on proposals to increase property taxes.
More than 80 Utah cities are also urging counties to put a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the ballot in November for voters to consider to help pay for local transportation needs.
County officials will decide by the end of August if they’ll put the possible sales tax increase on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The Utah cities proposing tax hikes include Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Sandy, Provo, Clearfield, Payson, Willard, Lewiston, Fruit Heights, West Point, Fairview, Elk Ridge and Woodland Hills.