Summit County Council members faced an emotional crowd at Wednesday night's budget hearing. Many attendees were there to oppose proposed cuts to service levels in their neighborhoods made possible by the recent petition to halt a pair of tax rate increases in the county's municipal fund and in Service Area #6.
Of the several dozen residents who voiced their opinions at the Richins building, most spoke in favor of reinstating the Municipal Fund and Service Area #6 tax increases. The rate hikes were approved by the council last December but we subsequently challenged by a successful petition effort demanding a public referendum on the issue. As a result, the council has frozen the increases and is trying to balance their budget for 2013 without those anticipated revenues. In previous meetings they have stated that without the increases they will have to layoff staffers and reduce service levels in manyof the unincorporated areas of the county.
Outgoing County Councilmember Sally Elliott blamed the petitioners, many of whom she said live outside the affected areas, for the predicament.
"I'm real sorry you did what you did, because you have made it real hard for those of us who have to balance a budget," she said. "You've made it real hard for people who are getting fired. You've made it really, really hard for the people who live in very steep areas who like to have their streets plowed by their service district."
Elliott said she didn't understand why people who were not directly affected by the taxes felt they had to impose their opinions on others.
"I am not philosophically opposed to government," she continued. "I have found government can do some really wonderful things. I am also not philosophically opposed to paying taxes. I get really excited when I see the streetlight outside of my house, when I hear the snowplow coming by and when I hear a siren from someone being stopped from speeding down my street."
Elliott added that those who want Park City's tax base to subsidize unincorporated areas through the General Fund "really annoy" her.
Jacqueline Smith, who headed the petition drive, acknowledged that Elliott was talking mostly to her.
"I may be very unpopular in this room, but I'll tell you that most of what you've been hearing from the council, the radio and the paper are a bunch of lies," Smith said. "I did exactly what I was told I legally could do to stop a tax increase. I live in Summit County and this tax increase effected me personally."
Smith said she had used Department of Labor statistics to compare Summit County's private and public sector wages and found that using public employees almost always costs more.
"We are on average 73 percent higher than the private sector," she argued. "That's ridiculous. The public sector should be a place people stop on their way in their careers.
Concern expressed at budget hearing
County Attorney David Brickey countered that the Department of Labor statistics were mean wages that did not include benefits, as the county statistics did, nor was cost of living factored in.
Referring to Smith as "the Wicked Witch of Wanship, " Basin resident Mike Andrews said, "This crisis is being perpetrated by a small group of radical Tea Party citizens who have no stake in the outcome or impacts of their actions, or the quality and efficiencies of essential services."
Andrews also criticized the County Council for letting the Service Area #6 budget fall so far behind before attempting a tax increase.
"Why did the council not come to the tax payers with an increase in taxes for Service Area #6, when for the past six years, we've had continuous and growing deficits," he asked. "Did you not, in effect, help to create this fiscal crisis by refusing to acknowledge the need for additional revenue rather than borrowing from Peter to pay Paul?"
Elliott acknowledged it was a pertinent question, but said the council did not know the state of the Service Area #6 fund prior to discussing the 2012 budget.
"It's been very difficult to get adequate information of exactly where we are, but thank heavens you voted in favor of changing our form of government, which enabled us to hire professional management," Elliott said.
"Professional management asked some very difficult questions, and now we are 1,000 times better managed than we ever were as a county commission managing the county with no experience whatsoever."
Summit Park resident Alisa Schofield said it will be sad if during the next snowstorm a car careens down a street in her neighborhood and hit a child waiting for the bus.
"And I hope it's not one of my kids," she said. "This last snowstorm proved what a difference service makes because there was reduced service during the storm and it was very inconvenient for our family and other people in the neighborhood."
Schofield also thanked the county for the great snow plowing service they've had in the past, adding that clearing Summit Park's steep roads is not easy.
"My husband and I are in favor of a tax increase for Service Area #6, and we would like to see a maintaining of services at the past level, not the current level, for the safety of our children," she said.
The County Council will vote on the budget and tax increases following the Dec. 19 Truth in Taxation hearing at 6 p.m. at the Summit County Courthouse at 60 North Main Street in Coalville.