Mia Love, Saratoga Springs and Jim Matheson’s desperation

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Jim Matheson is swinging hard against his Republican opponent, Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love. His main talking point, apparently, is to point to property taxes being collected by the city.

It’s true – Saratoga Springs is now collecting municipal property taxes. What “Spinning Jim” does NOT tell you is, as they say, the rest of the story. (Of course, he conveniently forgets to mention any of the very expensive things he has voted for – bailouts for banks at $700 billion, the Obama stimulus bill, Solyndra, and oh, so much more.)

Saratoga Springs was incorporated as a city in the late 90’s. At the time, it was a small agricultural community out in the rural area on the west side of Utah Lake. It experienced EXPLOSIVE growth, topping the charts for the 2000 decade with growth of 1,672.8%. Let me say that again – for ten years in a row, Saratoga Springs was the fastest growing town in the state, increasing by almost 1700%. A small farming community of 1,003 residents in the 2000 census, there were almost 18,000 people calling Saratoga Springs home by 2010.

During the housing boom, the city was still funded at the county agricultural tax rate plus development revenue from the large numbers of homes being built. The city could have changed the tax rate when they incorporated – indeed, some say they should have, but for whatever reason, it did not happen. Through the heavy growth period, the city was never flush with cash but was constantly stretching every dollar just to keep up with infrastructure growth – water, sewer, utilities and the like.

When the bottom fell out of the housing market, there was an immediate drop of 70%-80% in revenue from new building projects in just one year. Already on the low end of taxes and fees, city staff proposed a property tax increase of over 400%. In fact, they didn’t just propose it, they insisted it was the only way to fund the city.

As a city councilwoman, Mia Love and the other city council members would have none of it. Mia vowed that they would go through the budget with a fine-tooth comb – or a scalpel, if you will. Under Mia’s leadership, members of the city council met twice a week, including Saturdays, for months. All options were on the table – they could increase “fees” like several surrounding cities had done (a tax hike with a different name), cut services dramatically, including laying off police and fire, raise taxes or a find a combination.

Jeff Moss, elected to the city council in 2006, said of the intense budget talks:

“The majority of the city council wanted to match fixed costs with fixed revenues to ensure city services were being met on an ongoing basis and not disguise it with “fees”. The decision to raise property taxes to a more standard municipal rate was very difficult and very personal. We had to look our friends and neighbors in the eye and tell them they no longer had a job with the city. We cut beloved programs – even our baby contest – because it freed up a few dollars. That baby contest? It saved the city an extra $200.
When other cities took a Band-Aid approach, Saratoga Springs addressed the fiscal problems head-on and put our city on sustainable financial footing for years to come.”

Many of those programs were taken over by volunteers and are a testament to what every community can do with motivated citizens and a government that doesn’t try to do everything for everyone.

It took political courage for Mia to face tough issues, asking the 3 simple questions that have become the hallmark of her Congressional campaign: Can we afford it? Is it sustainable? Is it our job?

According to Royce Van Tassell, the Vice-President of the Utah Taxpayer’s Association, Saratoga Springs held a single Truth-in-Taxation hearing and has not needed any additional ones. Speaking specifically to Mr. Matheson’s claims that there have been 2 additional tax hikes in Saratoga Springs, Mr. Van Tassell said: “To claim that rates went up in 2009 and call it a tax hike is simply false. Property taxes can only go up if the city wanted to take the rate above the already-certified tax rate, which would require Truth-in-Taxation hearings. Property taxes are designed to pay for the public good and certainly law enforcement is a public good.”

After careful, albeit painful, cutting, the Saratoga Springs city council reduced the proposed property tax increase by almost 75%, resulting in a net increase of 116% over 2007. 100% of those property taxes go towards public safety.  IN ADDITION, when those property taxes went to a more standard municipal rate in 2009, the overall city budget was cut by almost $1,000,000. When your budget is not even $7 million, that’s some hefty trimming.

Now, we see the results of strong fiscal management: a city with the highest possible municipal bond rating, surplus in the rainy day fund and an additional $50,000 for police and fire (in spite of Matheson’s lies to the contrary).  Unlike other Utah cities who tried the Band-Aid approach and are now raising taxes to pay for pet projects, Saratoga Springs is a leader and prime example in how to do things right.

City councilman Michael McOmber has had enough of his city being thrown under the bus by a Congressman who grows increasingly desperate and meaner by the day. “For Jim Matheson to base his campaign on attacking a city with the highest bond rating, low crime and a balanced budget is insulting to our residents,” he said. “There is a reason our city continues to prosper and is one of the fasting grow cities in Utah and it has nothing to do with Washington politicians.”

Perhaps Matheson’s whole approach can be summarized by this sentence by Billy Hesterman of the Daily Herald:

“Matheson admitted that he feels the race has tightened up and [that] could be the reason why he is leading the charge against Love instead of discussing policies and plans for what he would do if he were sent back to Congress for a seventh term.”

And now you know “the rest of the story.”

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3 Responses to “Mia Love, Saratoga Springs and Jim Matheson’s desperation”

  1. ARQUETTE, ROD Says:

    Nice article.

    Rod Arquette Program Director/Talk Show Host Talkradio 105-7FM 570AM KNRS 801.908.1383 (o) 206.919.3759 (c) [http://www.knrs.com/template/masthead/200×90-talkradio2.jpg]

    ________________________________

  2. ERIC in Murray Says:

    Matheson counts on the fact that his supporters can’t understand FACTS. Thats the fact!.

  3. jbtalcott Says:

    Another fact is that the word “can’t” the abbreviation for “can not” requires an apostrophe.

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