South Summit Fire District wants to increase taxes
South Summit homeowners may notice an increase on their 2019 property tax bills if the governing body of the South Summit Fire Protection District approves a nearly 150 percent tax hike next month as part of the district’s budget.
Chief Scott Anderson says he knows tax increases are difficult. But, he said it is necessary if the district is going to continue providing fire protection for the entire South Summit area. He pointed to increased operation and equipment costs, as well as a rise in calls, as reasons why the new rate is needed. He said there were roughly 350 calls in 2018 compared to 140 calls in 2008.
The fire district is considering increasing its property tax rate from .000264 to .000649 through a Truth-in-Taxation process. The tax increase amounts to $129.80 annually on a primary residence with a taxable value of $200,000, or about a 145 percent increase. The hike does not require voter approval.
“When you look at this initially, it is a shock,” Anderson said. “It is a 145 percent increase. I understand that looks significant and it is. But, nonetheless, it would still be less than North Summit, Park City Fire District and Wasatch County. Providing a volunteer service is getting more difficult without a stipend because of the number of calls we have to respond to.”
The South Summit Fire District Board operates on roughly a $250,000 budget. The fire district is required to approve its budget for fiscal year 2019 by the end of December. A Truth-in-Taxation hearing is scheduled on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. in the Oakley Fire Station, located at 4987 S.R. 32.
The increase would help support the construction of a new fire station, as well as provide a stipend for the roughly 25 volunteer members of the fire district, Anderson said. He said the Kamas Fire Station is nearly 60 years old.
“It’s in a state of disrepair and is not adequate for us anymore,” he said. “We need more space with a more modern facility. But, our current funding will not do that.”
The fire district purchased a little more than 2 acres near S.R. 32 to build a new station. It will costs at least $2 million to construct.
Kent Leavitt, chairman of the fire district’s board and a volunteer firefighter for 34 years, said a tax increase has been considered for at least 25 years. But, he added, “We were trying to figure out how best to implement it.”
“I guess this ball has been kicked down the road and no one wanted to address it,” he said. “But, we have to do something. Volunteerism nationwide is suffering and when you ask them to take Fire 1, Fire 2, Hazmat training, attend a minimum of three meetings a month, it’s hard on them and their families.”
Leavitt said he has been paying about $45 a year to the fire district as a homeowner. Under the new rate, that would increase to about $110 a year.
“That’s a lot. It’s a big increase and we knew we would get some flak over it,” he said. “But, if we get to the point where we just say ‘No’ and continue to kick this can down the road for another couple of years, it won’t get any better.”
Leavitt admits opinion has been split.
“I don’t like taxes any more than anyone else, but it’s time,” he said. “I’ve had some people tell me we need to go full time even. But, if you think this is an ugly deal, what will that look like if we do that? It seems to me that the people who are screaming the loudest are the most critical and the least likely to volunteer to help.”
If approved, the tax increase would be coming on the heels of another hike for South Summit residents. The South Summit School District approved its first tax increase in almost a decade in July and is considering another bond measure for the 2019 ballot.
Anderson said the fire district has received a lot of pushback over the proposal. But, also a significant amount of support.
“Some say this has been poor planning on the parts of the fire district for not having a gradual increase, but that is not the case,” he said. “We were getting by the best we could. We were trying to work with the community to keep the money in their pockets rather than ours. I agree it is a lot, but is it really for the service we are providing?”
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