Riverton City Council Begins Process of Leaving UPD Taxing District
Aug 22, 2016 04:29PM
● By Chris Larson
Councilman Trent Staggs, District 4, reading from a prepared statement, said Riverton City should leave the Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area, the UPD taxing district, to create a new taxing district for Riverton to pay for UPD services. – Chris Larson
By Chris Larson | [email protected]
Riverton City is now working on creating its own property tax district to pay for UPD services after the city council voted unanimously to place a proposal to depart the existing law enforcement taxing entity on the 2017 ballot.
Proponent of the departure, Councilman Trent Staggs, District 4, said this move to leave the multi-municipality tax district called Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area and create a Riverton-only tax service area is ultimately about avoiding property tax increases from SLVLESA, gaining greater local control over policing and potentially halting further city fee or tax increases.
“I want to make it absolutely clear — we are not trying to leave UPD,” Staggs said.
In preparation for next year’s municipal general election, the council instructed staff to prepare a series of educational meetings for residents, similar to the meetings held for the city’s move to the Jordan Valley Conservancy District for its culinary water.
The council also instructed staff to begin to look at potential boundaries of the new “Riverton Law Enforcement Service Area” and to establish effective dates for departing and creating the relevant tax districts.
“It does allow for some complete (sic) transparency to say that 100 percent of tax dedicated to public safety is used for public safety,” SLVLESA Administrator Andrew Keddington said. Cities often place all taxes in a general tax fund with no specification as to where that money will be spent.
Keddington said new UPD municipalities will be added to the SLVLESA board. Staggs said additional board members with an equal vote will dilute the voting power of Riverton and other cities, with some of these additions representing areas with just a few hundred residents compared to Riverton’s 43,000 residents.
Riverton City has contracted with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office to provide policing services to the city since 1980 and became a stand-alone precinct in 2007, according to updsl.org.
In 2010, the sheriff’s department underwent a restructure and created the Unified Police of Greater Salt Lake, which Riverton joined at the department's creation. The city joined SLVLESA in 2012 rather than pay UPD directly from the city budgets with the thought that doing so would reduce the financial burden on the city and its residents. Before joining, residents were assessed a public safety fee by the city.
The Riverton City leadership adjusted various fee structures so the city wouldn’t receive a “windfall” of funds, Mayor Bill Applegarth said.
City officials eliminated the city property tax and the street lighting fee and reduced the sanitation fee from $12.50 to $1 to make the move to SLVLESA “revenue neutral,” according to Applegarth.
“We wanted to be fair with the taxpayers and have it all be the same at the end of the day,” Applegarth told the South Valley Journal.
Applegarth emphasized that the actions of the city council in the Aug. 16 meeting were just to approve a resolution mandating that staff place the proposal on the ballot, which is required per Utah State Code to leave a special district, and to direct staff to study any “gaps” in creating a taxing district in Riverton that would raise the necessary funds to pay for the roughly $5 million contract for policing from UPD.
Staggs, who also serves as the Riverton UPD board member and SLVLESA board trustee, anticipates that property taxes in SLVLESA will increase by more than 9.5 percent after Jan. 2017, to be formally announced to residents this November, and 4 percent every year thereafter.
“The question is rather simple: Would you rather have [SLVLESA] continue to drive policy, budgets, service levels and tax increases; or, would you rather have the accountability and control brought back to Riverton elected officials?” Staggs read from a prepared statement in the meeting.
He continued saying the original arrangement with SLVLESA called for 3 to 5 percent annual increases. But things changed with the 2013 landslide in the Kennecott Copper Mine in Bingham Canyon.
The landslide sent millions of tons of debris down the edge of the mine, temporarily shutting down operations and smashing the properties’ valuation by about a third.
The mine provided about a third of the district's revenue despite requiring minimal services from law enforcement. Since the landslide, the annual contribution via tax to the district was reduced by $2 million.
The rest of the entities in the district are left to pick up the difference.
“Rio Tinto is not the benefit we thought it would be,” Staggs said.
The Riverton City Council passed a resolution showing their support and condemning violence against the police at the Aug 2, 2016 City Council meeting. Read More »
The City Council
Stagg’s proposal appeared to be met well, passing unanimously and receiving many comments and questions that appeared to support the effort.
Councilman Sheldon Stewart, District 1, said the timing of this proposal was fortuitous because it gave city leaders time to prepare appropriately to educate residents on the issue and begin the process of creating the tax district.
Stewart also agreed that increased local control over a law enforcement tax would provide more directly for the city needs.
“I can’t go to my residents and say, ‘We’re going to get a (9 percent property tax) increase, and by the way we get nothing,’” Stewart said.
Historically, the Riverton City portion of SLVLESA generated $5 million, while Riverton’s UPD contract cost about $4.9 million, according to Staggs. Staggs said the tax increase could add up to $500,000 additional revenues to the district without increasing service to the city.
Stewart further referenced that Riverton City appears to receive disparate service from UPD, claiming that Riverton has about .8 officers for 1,000 residents.
Staggs said in his statement that the unincorporated county part of SLVESA and UPD have 1.14 officers per 1,000 residents.
“When I first joined the city council, we were targeting 1 officer per 1,000 residents, and we are still not at 1 officer per 1,000,” Steward said.
Stewart continued by suggesting the city have an independent study done of possible costs, benefits and risk to “get the facts.”
Applegarth pointed out that in the years before the city officially joined UPD and later SLVLESA that the city paid for studies to find independent facts for and against joining either.
“I think we need to come to them as unbiased as possible with the fact so they are prepared to vote,” Councilwoman Tricia Tingey, District 2, said.
She also said it was very important to reiterate that Riverton City would not be getting its own police department.
“Your local police and fire departments are your city’s identity,” Tingey said. She said it would be inappropriate to let people think Riverton was leaving UPD.
She also said in the meeting that she had received several inquiries from resident asking if the city would have its own police force.
Staggs initially wanted to have the issue placed on the 2016 general ballot, but Utah law calls for such votes to occur on the general municipal elections, which are held every odd year.
For Riverton City, a major motivator for departure from SLVLESA is confidence that city sales tax revenues will continue to increase over the next several years, especially with the Western Commercial District being developed by CenterCal Properties.
CentralCal Properties purchased 85 acres of land in the western reaches of the city and will develop it in a similar way as Farmington Station, but much larger. It is anticipated that the large multi-use development will help facilitate increased sale tax for the city, as well as bring in a substantial number of homes and new residents to Riverton.
“This can effectively hold the line on property taxes going forward with a service area comprised just within Riverton’s boundary, instead of the entire county-wide service area in which it currently participates,” Staggs said.
The impact on UPD’s shared revenue model and SLVLESA is still unclear in the early stages of Riverton’s departure.
“That is a great question,” Keddington said about the effect of Riverton’s departure from SLVLESA. “It is one we haven’t really studied to see what the differences would be if Riverton were to stay or leave. It’s too early for us to know right now.”