Letter to the Editor: Despite surplus, water board raises property tax, shows ‘arrogant disregard’ for public

Stock image | Photo by Piyaset/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — I attended the Dec. 5 Washington County Water Conservancy District Board of Trustees public hearing and meeting relating to raising the property tax rate. I was encouraged by the strong public turnout and the unanimous opposition of the public speakers to the proposed rate hike.

Many people said that property taxes unfairly subsidize those who waste water. Such taxes should be eliminated and replaced by tiered water pricing that would use free market incentives to encourage water conservation. This would be equitable because those who conserve would pay less, versus those who use more would pay more. People who have trouble making ends meet and those retirees on limited monthly incomes would not be subject to ever higher property taxes to pay for someone else’s water.

In my comments, I expressed shock at the district’s audacious request to increase property taxes while sitting on a massive reported budget surplus. This surplus is enough for the district to operate for 4,200 days with the existing cash on hand. A surplus about 12 times larger than the average for other water districts. A surplus that could keep the district running until 2030 without collecting an additional cent in revenue.

It seems obvious that this hoarding is primarily in preparation for construction of the likely exorbitantly-costly proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. Many speakers at the hearing questioned the pipeline as too expensive and risky, and urged the board members to pursue cheaper and more reliable alternatives.

After more than a decade, the pipeline is still not even halfway through the extensive environmental review process, and the public has still not had an opportunity to evaluate the pipeline in comparison to other alternatives. This opportunity should occur if and when the pipeline’s draft environmental impact statement is released.

I also expressed shock at the reported district salaries. For example, I understand that Utah’s governor makes about $190,000 per year; Utah’s attorney general about $187,000; and the district’s Ron Thompson about $239,000. I respect that Mr. Thompson has an important and complex job, but is his work really worth almost $50,000 more each year than Utah’s governor?

After the last speaker, the board chairman announced that the public hearing was over, and most people left. There was a long break and then the board considered adoption of the proposed property tax hike. As board members, St. George Mayor Jon Pike said that a majority of his constituents want growth and the water to support that growth, and Ivins Mayor Chris Hart said that growth was inevitable.

They said they support conservation but there was no discussion of phasing out property taxes nor initiating a tiered water pricing system. Pike then moved, and Hart seconded, to approve the requested property tax hike. That motion unanimously passed and the tax hike was approved.

I believe that the board members decided what they were going to do before the public hearing, and despite unanimous opposition from the public and a huge budget surplus they proceeded in lockstep to adopt the tax hike. In doing so, the board members demonstrated profound bias and an arrogant disregard for the public’s serious concerns.

The board members may feel that they won’t be held accountable and that their constituents are gullible and trusting. In future local elections, the voters will ultimately decide if that is true. I, for one, hope that won’t be true because we desperately need more diverse, responsive and open-minded local officials.

Submitted by RICHARD SPOTTS, St. George, Utah.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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  • Borowiak Mark December 12, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    Nice article Mr. Spotts. You conclude with, “the board members may feel that they won’t be held accountable and that their constituents are gullible and trusting. In future local elections, the voters will ultimately decide if that is true.” Sadly, we just held elections this year and, taxes and the LPP were at the forefront of the issues, yet voters elected the exact same people, some for almost 2 straight decades. And what’s worse, they did not hide where they stood. Finally you say, “we desperately need more diverse, responsive and open-minded local officials.” Well, I ran on a platform of exactly that and was soundly defeated in the Republican primary. Therefore one must conclude that either people are happy with their leadership or don’t care enough to do some simple research.

  • tcrider December 12, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    I would like to add, because of the fact that mayor and councilors voted
    themselves a raise, I am betting that because of the higher pay in the future
    we should see some possible more qualified people run for offices and maybe
    disrupt this cycle of corruption that has taken over our city.

  • tazzman December 12, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    We need local term limits and elections for these boards and commissions that have abilities to raise taxes.

  • Comment December 12, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    They’re just gonna get us to the point where we won’t have the ability to resist them when they come at us with the 40-60% prop tax increase for Ron’s pipe dream. It’s coming, folks. Ron and crew will be laughing all the way to the bank.

  • Red2Blue310 December 12, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    Retire Ron Thompson and cut his position’s pay. Its been long enough.

  • stevenxfiles December 12, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    Great report! And people wonder why the squeezed middle classes are putting on yellow vests and marching the streets of France against corrupt and tone deaf politicians…. It’s likely coming here next folks.

  • jaltair December 12, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    This is a very well written Comment, Mr. Spotts.

    It sounds like St George is due for a shakeup. I will at the next election, not re-elect any person without research. We also need more town hall meetings with opponents facing each other off in a question and answer setting. Put them on the burner! I believe this is “taxation without representation” – at least this decision to increase the tax and the apparent blatant disregard. I wasn’t able to attend the meeting; however, I did write to the commission regarding my opposition.

    I believe the commission and most elected officials in this state are bought off by special interests. Now… who would be the special interest in regards to the tax hike? Because of this “dirty play,” there are many people are disillusioned about politics. The sausage grinder is just plain ugly. Those who are able-bodied and willing advocates must question everything and not take anything for granted as being “in their best interest.”

    Thank you again, Mr. Potts.

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