‘Only when it’s necessary’: Governor says local cities can consider property tax hikes for police, fire

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to students at Desert Hills High School, St. George, Utah, April 4, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Utah governor chimed in Thursday on whether cities in Southern Utah might need to consider a property tax increase to keep police and fire departments funded. However, he said local governments should exhaust other avenues for revenue first. 

In a video screenshot, Gov. Spencer Cox is seen during a taping of the PBS Utah “Governor’s Monthly News Conference” program, Salt Lake City, Utah, April 20, 2023 | Photo via video courtesy of PBS Utah, St. George News

Some local cities have said recently that the increasing cost of benefits – as well as other items like equipment and unfunded state and national mandates – have made it difficult to keep their fire and police squads financially afloat. 

Last August, St. George toyed with the idea of a property tax increase to provide more funding for its police department before that was squashed after residents’ reactions at a council meeting. And the police and fire chiefs in Ivins and Santa Clara have raised alarms about their financial future.  

Gov. Spencer Cox, who before moving on to state government rose through the local government ranks in Sanpete County, said he can sympathize with the dilemma local Southern Utah leaders are facing in response to a question from St. George News during the Thursday taping of the monthly PBS Utah Governor’s Press Conference program in Salt Lake City.

“As a former mayor, councilman, county commissioner, I remember wrestling with that,” Cox said. “But public safety is at the top of that list and sometimes the only way to do it is property tax increases, but I’m in favor only when it’s necessary.”

Property taxes in most local cities have been frozen for a decade or more even as inflation has driven up the costs to operate police and fire departments as well as the salaries and benefits of their employees. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, healthcare costs alone have risen 43% in the last 10 years. 

But Cox said increasing property taxes remains a last resort, and it will be up to local leaders to convince residents there is no other alternative.

“Sometimes we have to balance,” Cox said. “If there’s no appetite for taxes, then you have to cut it from somewhere else.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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