Bountiful City Mayor And Council: Pet Project Priority Precedes People Protection

Who knew? We live in a utopia in Bountiful where there’s no such thing as opportunity cost. Well, at least if you’re a local politician, that is.

This is really a tale about all South Davis mayors and city councils (North Salt Lake, West Bountiful, Woods Cross, Centerville) and applies to many more in state, county  and city governments. I just decided to focus on Bountiful. We will soon be paying more property tax…again. This time we’re on the hook for a higher county tax (~22% increase), library tax (~20% increase), and South Davis Metro Fire tax: Despite push back, Metro tax increase approved. At least it’s only a 4000% increase. No that’s not a type-0.

Here’s the game the cities played. I attended the above meeting. As the Fire Chief noted, about a decade or so ago South Davis cities set up a special fire district. When they did so, they had to set a tax rate, however the initial rate they set would have to be offset by a reduction in city taxes to keep the overall tax burden on citizens the same. So, what did the cities and new district do when faced with funding a core/critical function of government?….. Yep, they set the lowest possible rate so politicians wouldn’t have to man up and cut anything (even temporarily). Then they let things fester for years because they had other big priorities like Recreation Centers, RAP taxes, theaters, plazas and fun attempts at new city halls, skate parks, museums, art centers, street cars and other crap I don’t remember anymore.

A decade or so down the line, surprise! We have ourselves a crisis of fire buildings in disrepair, personnel retention issues, increasing response times (and risk to life) and responders not being able to follow recommended staffing guidelines for emergency response. Well, this is a crisis, indeed and now we need to fix it, ergo 4000% increase.

But there’s a silver lining: since it’s not the initial tax rate, this time the tax rate doesn’t have to be offset by a reduction in city taxes! No, thank goodness young families and the elderly on fixed incomes who account for opportunity cost in family budgets will have to dole out more cash and our local politicians can keep their budgets focused on the important things. I mean, who really wants to be known for telling special interests to pay for their own fun and just funding mundane critical needs like streets, police and fire? Booooring!

No, far better to be known for the special unnecessary neat-o projects you can affix your name to (a legacy!) with fun ceremonies that ignore those who were forced to pay for it all.

 

Addendum: If you read the Clipper article a lady mentioned “Our Schools Now” also barking at our doors for more taxes. Please be aware of the math game they are playing and don’t fall for it.

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South Davis Taxpayers Tapped To Pay For Politician, Special Interest Spending

I’m going to keep this short and simple. We have another tax increase we’re being told is necessary. This time it’s actually for something that is a core government function. From the Clipper article (Tax increase meant to benefit residents, firefighters):

Last week the South Davis Metro Fire Agency proposed a property tax increase to cover critical needs in staffing and equipment.  Some residents may be asking why since there was already an increase last year.

As I Gabbed when I saw the article:

If tax increase is so critical, why did #BountifulCity and so many other cities blow tax money on oodles of stuff outside the scope of core government functions?

Normally, I would vote for this increase. Not this time. City politicians can cut some of their pet projects’ funding and forgo other pet projects (city hall, plaza, RAP tax, theaters, rec centers, etc. etc….) first. They blab about the urgency they themselves create by tapping us out for their wasteful projects and the non core government projects special interests convince them they “need”. If it’s so urgent, lets see them drop a couple these “skunks” just like a family has to cut some fluff when a pressing issue comes up.

UPDATE: See my latest post on the outcome of the tax.

Bountiful Halts City Hall Project For Now, Looks To Keep Plaza Boondoggle

Some good news. The Bountiful City Council has pulled back and stopped the new city hall project and will shortly cancel the contracts for it. From the Better Bountiful group that opposed the project:

The Better Bountiful Committee and its many supporters welcome the Bountiful City Council’s decision to cancel their plans to build a new city hall.  The City Council and Mayor have heard the voices of the people and will now invest funds to properly maintain our current City Hall rather than abandon it.  That is a decision we welcome.   We particularly appreciate those City leaders who took the time to listen and discuss the matter with us.

All major plans involving taxpayers’ money are always best accomplished when citizens are allowed a voice at the ballot box. We assume the City Council will apply that principle to the proposed Downtown City Plaza, major infrastructure improvements, and all other similar plans going forward.

The city council also sent out a release citing the reason for the cancellation was to “promote community harmony over the new building.” Hopefully that’s the case but I doubt the motives are so pure. As Fox 13 notes: “The lawsuit was the tipping point for the city.” The city council also held a special (previously unscheduled) closed session meeting to discus “pending litigation” on February 21 (6 days before the release).

The city council plans on continuing with the next pet project (the plaza) and certainly doesn’t appear to embrace Better Bountiful’s request that residents be able to vote on it: “The Downtown Plaza will also remain a priority, and will require a new contract to complete.” They continue to justify this by saying it’ll ‘revitalize Main Street’. People aren’t going to go shop there because of a cute plaza or gleaming city hall and Main St. isn’t in disrepair (it’s a pretty, quaint area). Besides locals, Main St. is a hassle to get to and doesn’t have any store(s) to draw significant traffic to the area. It will remain a local shopping area unless something drastic happens (think huge project redeveloping a massive area and road infrastructure). The constant pet projects gambits justified by saying “revitalize Main St.” are tiring.

I’ve said it many times. Politicians don’t give up on pet project easily. They won’t hear either. I’m glad the new city hall was stopped but one to point one last thing out: Milton Friedman continues to be proven right, these unnecessary pet projects rarely fail despite opposition. As Better Bountiful notes:

This outcome is a reflection of many hundreds of hours of hard work, many thousands of dollars, and some of the best community teamwork…

Read the above linked post and you’ll understand why that quote proves Friedman right despite this being one of the rare successes by “diffused interests”. If you don’t see the connection, drop a comment or use the contact page.

In the meantime, enjoy the success. Ultimately, the only way to have a lasting success is to elect local/state/national representatives who respect limiting government to core functions.

Food: A New Sin Tax For Utah?

That’s right. I’m going to say it again: Food is perfectly eligible as a sin tax.

…and by sin, I’m referring to the politician’s and crony organizations’ sin.

Utah legislators are contemplating raising taxes on food because they’re worried about a budget shortfall. It’s funny how that may be the case after we’ve spent, bonded and redirected who knows how many millions or billions on crap outside the proper role of government. I guess all those cute ‘it only costs a tenth/half percent of the budget or it’s just a few dollars a day’ projects add up and you start to fall short for important stuff…like more useless projects government shouldn’t be involved with.

Rather than just slapping everyone with another tax hike, maybe they should look at cutting some of the crony capital junk (UTA, Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce front group boondoggles come to mind, among others). How about also ditching wasteful incremental budgeting with all it’s skunks, while your at it?

On the local level, we keep hearing that RDAs for a new, unnecessary city hall building won’t raise taxes. As I said in the past, it’s robing Peter to pay Paul and the piper will come calling when taxing entities find they’ve fallen short of money because the RDA etc. ate some of it up. The above is another example of the fallacy of the city council’s argument.

Finally, politicians don’t own all the guilt. The public (you and I) will band together to form groups demanding stuff like recreation centers, theaters, RAP taxes which impose on budgets and, ultimately, on families. Hopefully, we’ll consider the propriety and whether it’s a core governmental function or not next time we want something, else we’re our own worst enemy.

Heed Bastiat: Bountiful RAP Tax (2014)

Bountiful’s RAP (Recreation, Arts, and Parks) Tax is up for renewal in a few weeks.  While  it may be well intentioned, it represents a means for favored special interests groups and politicians to fund their pet projects at the expense of their neighbors and fellow citizens.  Long ago, Frederic Bastiat warned about the practice of drifting from core government functions and dubbed it “legal plunder“. More recently, economist Milton Friedman revealed why these special interests often prevail.

Ironically, often these special interest tax campaigns are bankrolled and pursued by those who can most afford them and the projects they fund.  Those most able to pay and benefit distribute the otherwise voluntary burden to those least able to do so.  They also tend to argue that their burden is a light burden and attempt to shame those opposed as unrefined and miserly.  Their tax may be small but it is heaped upon all the other taxes and fees placed upon us.  Make no mistake – it adds to families’ financial burdens to fund very non-critical functions.

Then there are the pitfalls of these funding pools.  It introduces government inefficiencies and pressure from groups or politicians to aggrandize projects into legacy projects.  Costs balloon and the project becomes orders of magnitude larger:  something we recently witnessed in Bountiful (this time it had a happy ending…for now).  Not to mention the pitfalls of the types of events that are funded.  Just to add insult to injury, the politicians and benefiting groups hold a groundbreaking, thank themselves for the hard work….and totally neglect taxpayers.

I guess all I can say is that I have a lot of hobbies and interests I enjoy participating in.  I take the time and money to pay for those and don’t demand that my wealthy neighbor, the widow on a fixed income, or a struggling young family pay for or subsidize my fun.  I am fortunate and grateful that I get to voluntarily donate and assist others.  I would just ask that the same courtesy be granted to me and to those least able to pay.

Please vote no on the RAP Tax (“Proposition 6”) and let folks willingly fund the projects they value rather than forcing others to pay for them.  ​A community that voluntarily helps one and other is a true community.

 

2011 Bountiful City Council Candidates (With Incumbent Data)

This is going to be a short post.  Basically, there is only one candidate (Ernie Cox) that is even willing to look at cuts related to the city budget.  All other candidates are incumbents or former incumbents who have supported various taxes and government intrusions into the private sector (be it recreation centers, RAP taxes, forced recycling, transfers from the city power company to cloak tax rates, and streetcars etc).  Based on the above link from the Standard Examiner, Cox seems to be the only fiscal conservative of the bunch who may, at least, provide for some debate or opposition at council meetings.  This may be important as the Mayor and council continue to pursue stuff like streetcars.

Based on data passed on by a reader, an opposing voice is sorely needed:

Voting Record of the Sitting Bountiful City Council

Year

Total Motions

Motions Passed

Total Unanimous

Total Aye Votes

Total Nay Votes

% Yay Votes

2011

176

176

176

814

0

100.0%

2010

202

202

200

926

2

99.8%

2009

172

172

172

793

0

100.0%

2008

210

209

204

986

9

99.1%

4-Year Total

760

759

752

3519

11

99.69%

-The last time voting was not unanimous was 7/27/2010 (Moss voted Nay on Bountiful Lumber Development motion)

-Voting was completely unanimous in both 2011 (to date) and 2009.

-The last time a motion did not carry (pass) was 12/9/2008–nearly 4 years ago (Knight, Holbrook, Tolman voted nay on

Extension of Sunset Provision)

*source: Minutes from Bountiful City Council Meetings

Over a four year period (2008-2011), the current city council votes the same (yea) 99.69% of the time.  I would expect city councils to have relatively high agreement percentages given the higher proportion of ‘gimme’ issues they encounter but only disagreeing 0.31% of the time seems pretty excessive.

Finally, here are the absences are as follows (includes late arrival or early departure which results in missed votes):

Moss 8
Myers 7
Knight 5
Tolman 4
Holbrook 3

Food for thought when voting this year.

Skating with Condescension

The skate park suffered a defeat (for now). The Bountiful City Council voted 3-2 against the skate park site.

This occurred after an, apparently, well attended meeting where opponents (mostly near the proposed site, I gather), made their views known.

Sounds like a good demonstration of public involvement but the Bountiful Mayor apparently didn’t appreciate this outpouring of civic responsibility (from the article):

The mayor himself made some of the most adamant comments. He mentioned that only one person at Tuesday’s meeting was present when the council approved the budget for the skate park, though there was plenty of information about it.

“The reason you’re not informed is your fault,” Joe Johnson said. “We do know what makes a successful park.

“The reason you’re here tonight is because it’s in your neighborhood,” said Johnson. “I find it hard: ‘It’s OK, but not where I live.’”

One attendee noted that the Mayor raised his voice and his mannerisms and tone was very condescending.

While I’m sure it’s frustrating to have a public monkey wrench thrown in after a lot of work, it is not uncommon. As a matter of fact, often, the public pressure can (and has) stopped projects/policies after they’ve been approved. Ultimately, our political systems were designed for the public to hold the trump card no matter when the decision will be (or was) made.

Further, the argument that these people weren’t there from the start is disingenuous. While the idea has been around for a few years, looking back even at my blog, you’ll notice that the new site location wasn’t chosen until after September 11th. Affected residents did, indeed, respond in a timely manner.

I would also hope that elected officials everywhere realize that the public is slow to respond and, often, not as informed as they (the public) would like. Most do their best, but family responsibilities and work considerations (especially when your work doesn’t involve political positions) typically take 66% of time. The other 34% is mostly spent sleeping. It takes people a fair amount of time to get informed and then adjust their busy schedules to react. Frustrating? Yes. Reality. Yes.

Anyway, the battle may be over, but the war may not be won given Councilman Pitt’s statement: “Time and time again, people are for it. It’s just a matter of where,”.

Sounds like the council could be hearing a few more last minute comments…