I love the mechanism of government. For as long as I can remember I have felt this way. It is not the power or the control that awes me. It is the ability to be a part of an effort to think through the best way to organize the necessities and luxuries in life to help the most people. What an amazing endowment!
Our local city is facing major budget decisions. To give background, Kaysville was a relatively small, rural city for most of its existence. There were many large farms as well as families that owned 5-10 acres of land for their own use. But around 2002, the areas south of us that had the closest access to SLC began filling up and desire for land to build new houses moved North. Kaysville became one of the next (and last) places where development could happen and with this came an immense boom in building. In particular, the area west of the freeway had a massive influx and with it came the need for an overpass to be built over the existing railway so that there could be easier access. To accomplish this, a bond (or loan to a city) was obtained. And each year when that bond bill was due, the funds came from the existing road budget. In the course of this happening, the roads did not get the maintenance that would normally be required to sustain their projected life of 30 years.
And that brings us to present. Recently the public works department and LTAP presented a report to the city council on the conditions of the 168 miles of roads within the city and what it will cost to “catch up”. (It was noted that if nothing is done, the assessment is that the existing roads have about 10 years of sustainability left in them.) And the numbers for this needed maintenance, rehabilitation and reconstruction over the next 10 years are staggering as they total about $30M. To break that down, our city currently receives $16.3M annually in government funds. $13.5M goes to providing maintenance of the basics (administration, parks and rec, fire, utility, etc.). That leaves just under $3M to account for any other needs.
I have been attending city council meetings since the beginning of the year and in that time, I have heard the fire department come and say that they have uncovered shifts because of too little funding. They have also stated that from their single fire station in our city, they cannot reach the residents on the west side within their goal time in order to keep the fire from doing irreparable damage. For this reason, a second fire station on the west side of town should be given serious consideration. I have heard the public works department get criticized for not having enough plow drivers. I have watched as the local high school has petitioned the city to provide street parking for their students while the neighborhood has fought for the city to enforce parking restrictions. I have seen reports that animal control is going to have an increase in cost as well as the counties administration of our elections. I have heard the public works come and say that while we are not in an emergency state on our roads right now, we very well could be if we do not invest money this direction. And then an architect came to give price estimates on creating more (needed) city office space. And all of this is supposed to fit into the $2.8M left over.
I know that is a lot of numbers to throw around but the basic take away is that there are not enough city funds to give to meeting the needs of the roads, let alone account for any of the other concerns. So, what can be done? A long-held belief of Utah conservatives is that high taxation is a sin. In talking to my husband about all this he pointed out that it comes down to trusting other people to spend your money wisely. Would you rather give it to the city and trust that they are making the best choices or instead, keep it for yourself and have control over what you view as important? While I still get this point of view, I have run into some conflicting emotions.
At the time of the report, a fellow citizen poised a question to her friends of what the alternative is to increasing taxes. The two main ideas given were;
1- Creating a road system that functions through tolls, allowing people to pay for use. With modern technology, this is something that might be feasible.
2- Making all city roads private and setting up HOA’s so that neighborhoods pay directly into the road fund and then make decisions about how to maintain their own roads.
And it is in these suggestions that I am struggling to maintain my view point. In both I see an opportunity for the haves to better their own situations while pushing the have not’s further into an inescapable reality. With one, only those with the money to pay the fees could drive on the roads to get where they need to go. With the other, only the neighborhoods with money would have nice roads while the ones without would be left with falling house prices without the means to get out from under them. Is this truly the way government should be run? I believe that there is a path that can accomplish both the objective of taking care of the citizens within our community and exercising fiscal responsibility.