WASHINGTON TERRACE — Washington Terrace homeowners could face a 32% jump in their property tax bills next year to help cover the cost of beefing up fire protection in the city.
Per the proposed 2020 city budget, officials are weighing an increase in the tax rate to raise money to cover the cost of bolstering the stipend that the city’s volunteer firefighters get. The new revenue would also allow the city to increase the number of firefighters on duty from two per day to three. As is, the city — competing with the other full-time departments of the area — has had a hard time recruiting and retaining firefighters.
City Manager Tom Hanson said the proposed hike — increasing the stipend for a 12-hour dayshift from around $120 to $180 — has the backing of Mayor Mark Allen, Fire Chief Kasey Bush and the Washington Terrace City Council.
Whatever the case, the rise in taxes would have a financial impact on property owners and, per state law, it will be the focus first of a truth-in-taxation hearing, probably taking place in August. The public would have a chance to sound off before any official action, though Hanson said he has already been responding to queries from the public on the issue.
The Washington Terrace Fire Department‘s 2019 budgeted totaled $325,000, and the 2020 plan calls for boosting that by around $260,000 to $585,000, an 80% increase. The owner of an average-valued house, around $207,000, would see a hike in their city property tax bill from around $290 to $383, up $93 or 32%.
A statement on the plans put out by Washington Terrace couches the increase in terms of the increase to the average homeowner if it were spread out over the year. The $93 increase amounts to $7.75 more per month or around 25 cents a day, the notice notes.
Still, the feedback from the public has been mainly positive or neutral, though Hanson suspects there may be naysayers out there, leery of boosting taxes. Even so, he maintains that there is no “fat” in the city budget, nowhere else to trim spending without causing harm to another element of city operations.
“We are a very, very lean operation,” he said.
The $290 in city property taxes paid last year by owners of average-valued homes in Washington Terrace was the ninth-largest sum among Weber County’s 15 cities, also figuring fire district taxes paid in cities without their own fire departments. That’s factoring taxes on average-valued homes in each city, a total that varies from place to place.
All other things being equal, if the proposed tax hike is approved, the new $383 city tax load in Washington Terrace — again, on an averaged-valued home, factoring fire district taxes in other locales so covered — would become the fourth-highest among Weber County’s cities. The three cities that top the list for 2018 are Huntsville ($630) followed by Pleasant View ($429) and Farr West ($396).
STIPEND UP FROM $120 TO $180
South Ogden, Riverdale and Washington Terrace officials were mulling the idea of unifying firefighting operations into a single consolidated fire district last year. Such change would have resulted in a steep hike in property taxes that Washington Terrace residents pay, more pronounced than in the other two cities. Washington Terrace officials ultimately pulled out of the discussions, in part because of the possible tax hike.
Indeed, had Washington Terrace officials pursued creation of a fire district or a full-time fire department, the resulting property tax hike would have been “significantly more” than what’s now proposed, Hanson said. He’s comfortable the plan of action under consideration is the best way to proceed.
“I see it as a terrific opportunity. We have every hope it’s going to work out,” he said. But the city has left open the possibility of resuming talks in coming years with Riverdale and South Ogden about joining forces in fire protection. Riverdale and South Ogden are pursuing creation of an interlocal agreement to allow coverage in each locale by either city’s fire department.
As is, Washington Terrace has just one full-time employee, Bush, the chief. The pool of 20 or so who serve as firefighters in the city are considered volunteers because their stipend is far below the pay a full-time firefighter receives. Per the budget proposal, the firefighters would still be considered volunteers, but the stipend for a 12-hour day shift would rise from $120 to around $180.
Washington Terrace firefighters typically have other jobs, with some serving in the fire department to supplement their income and get more firefighting experience, according to Hanson. Of the 1,000 or so calls per year in Washington Terrace, around 90% are medical calls. The city of Ogden provides ambulance service in the city.