Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Town Hall Meeting Questions

As part of our efforts to reach out to Provo residents and answer their questions about the recently passed city budget, we held a Town Hall Meeting at the Provo Library. This included a quick presentation on some of the budget highlights and then moved into a panel discussion where Council Members answered questions from those in attendance as well as questions submitted online.

A video recording of the panel discussion is available but we wanted to share some of the questions and answers as well.*


Q: With the property tax, why would we not tax the Country Club?

A: The Country Club is a non­profit entity. Non­profit entities are tax­-exempt under federal law. Roughly half of the property in Provo is not taxable.

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Q: The government has inflationary costs and so do citizens. What are you doing for citizens who have fixed incomes?

A: We have a Citizens Budget Committee member, Larry Walters, working on a study of the socio­economic impact that the increase has on the citizens. The Council has approved the utility rate increases for one year (instead of the original five-­year proposal) so that they could look at results from this study and how it effects the different socio­economic groups in the city and see who is shouldering the burden. In addition, the administration can also provide realistic suggestions for decreasing citizens’ water, power usage in effort to mitigate the utility cost. Another possibility is using a tiered rate structure to change the balance of the burden on customers.

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Q: What is your budget for repair and maintenance? Didn't you know these things would wear out? 

A1: The vast majority of our budget is used for operating the city and maintaining the infrastructure of the city. About 80% of our general fund is personnel, the people it takes to run the city on a day-to-day basis. We have the equivalent of about 860 full-­time employees. We do maintain our water lines and water tanks; we drain them periodically. After 40 years in the case of one of our water tanks and 80­-100 years in one of our water lines, all of the maintenance in the world does not keep them from corroding. We fight atrophy, the soil conditions; these things tend to wear out although we take care of them. These systems do require replacement, and investment. We have already invested millions of dollars in the infrastructures. The fact of the matter is that occasionally we have to have a $10 million investment to replace infrastructure and we can't fit that in a one year budget. So we have to provide a method for taking care of these large capital investments while still operating and maintaining. We try to make things last a long time and we are strong believers in fixing things until we can’t fix them any more.

A2: Current Council Members are also at the mercy of previous Council Members who allowed these capital expenses to be deferred for so long. The administration and Council are working to establish a possible new rate structure.

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Q: Could the administration look at decreasing personnel in other areas to pay for the new police officer instead of raising property taxes?

A: There have been significant efforts since the recession to address personnel numbers. In 2007 we eliminated 56 full-time positions (5% of the total employees) in the Provo City workforce. We have not come anywhere close to restoring those employees. We just did an employee analysis and we have fewer employees per 1,000 residents than we did 20 years ago. We have been working hard to consolidate positions, slow the growth in benefits, and look for other ways to manage costs.

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Q: Why did the Council raise property taxes without putting it on the ballot?

A: How a property tax is levied depends on the purpose of the funds. Increases for a general obligation bond are put on the ballot for voters to decide. With increases that go to the city's general fund, the property tax initiatives are heard at a truth in taxation hearing and then voted on by Council Members. The proposed property tax increase included in the Provo City budget is not officially approved until after having that hearing on August 4.  At that hearing residents can voice their opinions and the Provo City Council will vote on the property tax initiative.

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Q: Does speaking up at these meetings do any good? Are you trying to make us feel good about being fleeced?

A1: There isn’t any public comment that goes unnoticed. That is how decisions are made; through the collective contribution of the public. It may seem that an individual comment does not have an impact on decisions, but it does. It is the collective contribution of public comments that makes this process move forward.

A2: No, you are not being fleeced. There are 7­-10 police officers on a shift at any given time. We are six officers short of how many officers we are recommended for the city. Through the budget this year we were able to get two more and through the property tax increases we will get one more police officer. We will still be three police officers short as to what the standard for our city should be. The City is very efficient with its resources.

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Q: How much money does UTA (Utah Transit Authority) or bus system generate for the City of Provo?

A: Transportation is subsidized. It doesn’t generate money.

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Q: Which Council Members voted to accept the utility rate increases?

A: The vote was 6-1. Mr. Sewell voted against the utility rate increases and all other Council Members voted to approve the utility rate increases included in this year's budget.

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Q: Impact fees for a new development do not cover the expenses they are supposed to like roads and power lines. Why are all the residents subsidizing what makes developers rich?

A: Impact fees are meant to cover a portion or all of the impacts of a development on a city. With development growth there will be new demands for water, sewage, energy, and some other fees. The City Council that originally implemented the impact fees decided not to charge the full amount. One possible reason for not charging the full amount is to stay competitive with nearby cities. Keeping impact fees low can attract businesses/development to our city.

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Q: What purposes does the city have for undertaking a curbside recycling program? How  does it benefit the residents?

A: This is not only a matter of environmental stewardship but fiscal stewardship as  well. We look for ways to use our city’s resources and divert garbage away from  the landfill. That makes an impact on our bottom line. Residents expressed their desire to increase the recycling service and that will change to weekly instead of biweekly pickup beginning in November.

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Q: What is the update on the west side connector under construction on the South side of  Provo, connecting close to the I-­15 to the airport?

A: Construction will be under way once the road base is settled. We estimate asphalt work will begin early-mid next year when the compression is complete.Details of this project are available online.

*Questions and answers have been edited for clarity
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Comment below (requires Google+ account), on our Facebook page, through our online comment form, or by contacting Council Members directly. Comments/input on items appearing on an upcoming meeting agenda will be compiled and provided to Council Members the day before the meeting. **Note - your comments will be part of the public record.