WASHINGTON TERRACE — The proposed property tax hike in Washington Terrace, meant to bolster funding of the city’s fire department, will be the focus of an upcoming town hall meeting.
The public meeting is set for 6 p.m. June 18 at Washington Terrace City Hall, 5249 S. 400 East.
“We’re really trying to help people be informed to understand what we’re up against and trying to accomplish,” said City Manager Tom Hanson.
The city is proposing an 80% bump in the Washington Terrace Fire Department budget for fiscal year 2020 to $585,000, up from $325,000 for 2019. That would require an increase in property taxes, which will be the focus of a truth in taxation hearing set for Aug. 6 at City Hall.
State law gives cities leeway to increase property tax collections only to reflect new development. To collect additional property tax revenue — as Washington Terrace seeks — taxing jurisdictions must first hold public meetings, the planned Aug. 6 truth-in-taxation hearing, to let local residents sound off. The June 18 meeting is in addition to that.
Washington Terrace, served by what’s considered a volunteer fire department, has been wrestling with how to bolster fire protection. The extra revenue from the tax hike would allow the city to increase the stipend firefighters get, aiding in recruitment and retention. The money would also allow the city to increase the number of firefighters on duty from two per day to three.
“It comes down to recruitment and retention and having staffing levels so we can increase the confidence and competence of our fire operation at a cost we can afford,” Hanson said. The extra annual cost in city taxes to the owner of an average-valued house, around $207,000, would be around $93, from around $290 to $383, up 32%.
Even if the tax hike is ultimately implemented, that wouldn’t necessarily be the final word on funding for the fire department, at least over the long haul. “It’s not the end of the discussion,” Hanson said.
Washington Terrace had been in talks with the cities of Riverdale and South Ogden about consolidating fire protection and ambulance service to improve service, but later backed out due in part to money concerns. Riverdale and South Ogden have continued the talks and leaders from the two cities are scheduled to consider an agreement on June 18 to formally join forces, according to Riverdale Fire Chief Jared Sholly.
The two cities would keep their fire departments, but open their borders, responding to emergencies across city lines as circumstances dictated, among other things. “We’re just going to drop borders and do it a little bit different,” Sholly said. The arrangement could go into effect by early August.
Though Washington Terrace officials backed out of the earlier talks, Sholly said the city would be welcome to take part in a joint three-city initiative. “We’ve always left things open for them to talk to us,” he said.