Tax Transparency is important, even (especially) during election years

Seth Profile PhotoI’m excited to share that I have decided to run for city council again!  The last election was a fantastic experience, and I learned so much about myself and the folks in our growing-but-little city.   Here are a few updates on key issues:

What have I been doing since the last election?

Since the last election, I’ve attended city planning committee meetings, work sessions, and City Council meetings. I’ve continued to volunteer at the food pantry & Valley View Elementary, and I update my Facebook page very regularly to share official information about Bountiful City news, work opportunities, and local businesses.  In my view, our community benefits from deliberative communication and kindness.   If my campaign were to have a “platform” I think that its most important “plank” would be “kindness.”  I am also currently teaching both American Government and Introduction to Comparative Politics courses at the University of Utah.

Tax Transparency is important, even (especially) during election years:

I support annual “Truth in Taxation” meetings and view them as important taxpayer protection.

The Utah State Legislature designed the “Truth in Taxation” process such that local school districts and municipal governments are required to host a public meeting with the express purpose to share with taxpayers any proposed tax increases prior to holding a vote.

The “Truth in Taxation” law requires an automatic adjustment of property tax rates once property values experience a decrease or increase, assuring that Bountiful City collects the same amount of money from year to year.  In this way, this process maintains the Bountiful residents’ tax burden constant regardless of year.  The exception to this process is when the Bountiful City Council (our local legislative body) opts to raise taxes after notifying the public and holding a public hearing.

Last year, Bountiful City held a “Truth in Taxation” hearing, which can be viewed here.  This meeting was important, because it outlined a proposed property tax increase, and also explained the essential services it would pay for – services that we share as a community.  There appeared to be a consensus from the City Council to continue holding these meetings.

In the most recent city council meeting on June 11, 2019, Bountiful City staff shared detailed information regarding Bountiful City’s taxes in preparation for a “Truth in Taxation” meeting and proposed to schedule this meeting for early to mid-August. The stated purpose for the Truth in Taxation meeting was, “In order to ensure that property revenue maintains its buying power and the City does not over-rely on less stable revenue sources, it is the intent of the Bountiful City Council to review property tax annually and hold a Truth in Taxation hearing each year.”

In this meeting, city staff proposed a few options, including a new property tax rate of .000880 up from our current rate of .000814.  A few more items from the staff presentation: An 8.1% increase to Bountiful residential city tax rate was proposed, which would mean a $13.46 per year increase for a home with a $371k value, equating to $1.12 per month.  In the city staff presentation, they explicitly suggest that “City Council should indicate if they would like the Truth in Taxation notice to include this rate” and “City Council should also set a date and time for the Truth in Taxation Public Hearing” while recommending the date of August 13th, 2019 at 7 pm.  It’s important to note the professionalism and collaborative nature of city staff.  Staff also echoed sentiment previously expressed by the city council in open meetings of the importance of holding such a meeting annually, even when the council votes to not raise taxes.  

(See photos below for this quote & details shared above.)

Here are a few photos from the presentation:

 

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Unfortunately, the city council unanimously voted to not follow this plan, possibly punting and not holding a dedicated Truth in Taxation special meeting this year.  There appeared to be a consensus for a variety of reasons, including the timing of the meeting and a feeling that it is not needed.  They will revisit the issue in the upcoming meeting.  I hope they reconsider and hold a special “Truth in Taxation” meeting, with amplified time for the public to comment.

Now retired State Senator Howard Stephenson is quoted as saying, “Some officials said after taxpayers showed up with pitchforks and hanging rope, they would rather run across the state naked than go through Truth in Taxation again.”

While this is a funny quote, I view all members of the current City Council and the Mayor with high regard and am addressing the substance and normative value of holding an annual Truth in Taxation meeting as important taxpayer protection. 

Whether a Bountiful resident is a fiscal conservative or progressive, their voices deserve to be heard by our city council just the same.

Even if the property tax rate is raised to .000815 (a suggestion made from some council members during the meeting was that even if it is not being seriously considered), a Truth in Taxation public hearing is important taxpayer protection.

This being said, I support holding “Truth in Taxation” meetings annually, even in election cycle years.  They are critical to Tax Transparency. 

Transparency Update:

When running in 2017, a core component of my grassroots campaign focused on increased transparency via the live-streaming of city council meetings. Although I didn’t advance the last election, I feel encouraged that the first live-streamed meeting was on January 9th, 2018, the first city council meeting directly following the campaign.   In aggregate, Bountiful’s YouTube channel has posted videos of 22 City Council Meetings, 4 work sessions, 1 RDA meeting, and 1 Special Session.  In aggregate, these videos have been viewed 1,410 times!  Here is a table at the end with dates, meeting types, and the number of times the videos were viewed on the official Bountiful YouTube channel.

  Meeting Type # of Views on YouTube
Jan. 9, 2018 City Council 44
Jan. 23, 2018 City Council 26
Feb. 13, 2018 City Council 119
Feb. 27, 2018 City Council 42
Mar. 27, 2018 City Council/RDA 85
Apr. 10, 2018 City Council/Work Session 51
May 8, 2018 City Council/Work Session 68
May 22, 2018 City Council/Work Session 50
June 12, 2018 City Council 64
June 26, 2018 City Council 26
July 10, 2018 City Council 19
Aug. 7, 2018 City Council 160
Aug. 28, 2018 City Council 33
Sept. 11, 2018 City Council 26
Sept. 25, 2018 City Council (two videos) 33
Oct. 9, 2018 City Council (two videos) 35
Nov. 13, 2018 City Council 24
Nov. 13, 2018 Work Session (two videos) 49
Nov. 20, 2019 Special Session (two videos) 233
Nov. 27, 2018 City Council 31
Dec. 11, 2018 City Council (three videos) 44
Jan. 8, 2019 City Council 37
Jan. 22, 2019 City Council 31
Feb. 12, 2019 City Council 80

This being said, more can be done in two areas:

First, video streaming all of Bountiful City’s open meetings, including Planning Budget Committee meetings, Public Safety Budget Committee meetings, Water Budget Committee meetings, Finance & Administration Committee meetings, and Streets & Sanitation Budget Committee meetings.

Second, creating a culture of political participation will pair transparency (openness) with more opportunities for public comment.

Offering childcare (maybe as community service?) is an interesting way to meet a gap in digital civic engagement, while also positioning city council meetings as encouragement for folks to not only participate in local government but also to run for office in the future!  What do you think? Would you, or perhaps someone you know, be more likely to attend a meeting if childcare was available (either on-site or in the home)?  Here’s a link detailing how some cities are experimenting with this already.

Finally, due to construction on city hall, meetings are NOT currently being live-streamed.  I feel that citizen streamers – folks like you and I – have an opportunity to live-stream the open meetings with our smartphones.

 

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