LAYTON -- A majority of the candidates vying for three open seats on the city council have common beliefs about the biggest issue this community faces.
Incumbents F. Renny Knowlton, Joyce Forbes Brown and Scott Freitag, along with challengers Jory Francis and Dawn Fitzpatrick, point to low revenue from sales tax as the biggest issue facing Layton. L.T. Weese said the crumbling housing market and rising number of foreclosures is the big issue.
Knowlton said Layton's sales tax revenue for the past three years has been running $2 million to $4 million less than the city's revenues before the recession. According to Freitag, in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, sales tax revenues were down 11 percent and 6.75 percent, respectively. He said the good news is that fiscal year 2011 saw a modest increase of 2.36 percent.
"I propose to continue to address this issue by promoting Layton as a place that businesses will want to bring family-sustaining jobs," said Brown, 53. "I would continue to support the Layton city staff in finding cost-effective ways to run the city. Also I would promote 'Live, Work, Play and Shop in Layton.' Our tax base would increase, which would support the services, the public safety and the lifestyle Layton residents have grown accustomed to."
Another common understanding among the candidates is that because the city provides important services to the residents -- such as police, fire and ambulance, water and parks and recreation -- having the money to operate under a budget is important.
"My first responsibility as a council member is to assure that critical city services are provided within a budget that does not exceed revenues," said Freitag, 42. "My second responsibility is to see that the city continues to operate as efficiently as possible. Third, as a city, we must use the tools we have at our disposal to improve our local economy by attracting new businesses to Layton that both create jobs and increase sales tax revenues."
Fitzpatrick said local efforts to retain business and recruit new businesses are necessary. She suggests holding focus groups to find out why businesses are closing or choosing to locate elsewhere.
"If they find it difficult to do business in Layton because of the city's policies or practices, those should be evaluated," said Fitzpatrick, 54. "We need to look at recruiting businesses to Layton that can provide 'family-sustaining' jobs. As we lose more residents due to the economic conditions of the times, it becomes crucial that these jobs are located in Layton, hoping then that they can live in Layton as well."
Knowlton said that with the tax revenues down, the city needs to continue to operate on a budget. "One of our philosophies in Layton city is that we pay as we go," said Knowlton, 64. "All of our buildings are paid for, and we have very little debt. This has been a huge benefit in dealing with our reduced revenues. By always watching for and being willing to implement innovative ideas, we have been able to respond to our income shortfalls."
Francis said Layton city's decision to fund the failing UTOPIA project at a cost of roughly $2 million per year is further exacerbating this unfortunate decrease in tax revenue.
"Only half of the roughly $4 million decrease in revenue is attributable to poor decisions of the past, but we are saddled with the full impact today," said Francis, 37. "As a Layton city councilman I will seek ways to minimize the impact of UTOPIA on our budget. I will not favor further monies going to the project. I will seek ways of divesting Layton city of the project, if possible. But overall, I will not throw good money after bad."
Weese said that while the city is facing many issues, Layton's biggest issue is the crumbling housing market and foreclosures.
"When home values drop, not only does the homeowner suffer, but property taxes drop, which damages our city's infrastructure, our schools, city workers and our ability to grow," said Weese, 33. "While we haven't seen the drastic decline in housing prices seen in other parts of the state and the nation, the steady increase in foreclosures is taking its toll on our city and could take us on a downward spiral."
The candidates in the Nov. 8 election will participate in a Meet the Candidate Night tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Central Davis Junior High School auditorium, 663 Church St.