HEBER CITY, Utah -- Last month, Heber City approved a 32 percent property tax increase to fund a new $7.8 million public safety building. Some citizens say that's too much money for a city of 13,000.
They have sponsored a referendum, in hopes the property tax increase goes to a vote for the public to decide on the November ballot.
For the past decade, Heber City's Public Safety Building has been based out of the old Central School, which was built in 1929.
"The building should be condemned," said Heber City Police Chief David Booth. "Today, in modern day law enforcement, we simply can't just operate out of any facility."
Booth is quick to point out the boarded up windows, loose wiring, deteriorating foundation, moldy walls and sinking roof.
"We've had engineers look at the roofing here, they say any day under a heavy snow load that it's ready for collapse," Booth said. "During a heavy rain the rain will come down into the phone system and constantly knock out our phone system."
Bathrooms have been turned into storage. Classrooms are being used for analyzing drugs and computer forensics. Booth said due to lack of resources, the department has to rely on the federal and county governments to do the work for them.
"I just simply don't have the lab area to conduct that type of investigation, and it's something that has to be done," Booth said.
The city's plan is to construct a brand new, 24,000 square foot facility on the same property. In order to fund the project, property taxes will be raised by an average of $3.77 a month.
"Most of the public didn't even know this was happening until this tax increase happened," said Tracy Taylor, who was one of the citizens to sponsor the referendum.
She is among other residents who are questioning the cost and design of the proposed facility.
"Where's the 3, 4 million-dollar version of this building," questioned Taylor. "This is putting a heavy burden on the seniors and the businesses in our community."
"We don't need the Taj Mahal, we need what's adequate for our needs," said senior Wayne Thacker, who also sponsored the referendum.
In comparison, the city of Kaysville recently broke ground on a 20,000 square foot public safety building, which acquired a $5.5 million bond. According to the 2010 census, that city has more than double the population of Heber City.
Members of the public are also questioning a recent opinion article, published August 27 in the Wasatch Wave and written by Booth, in which he writes, "To sign the referendum petition or vote against this property tax increase, is akin to aiding and abetting those who victimize this community and its children."
"We feel that one paragraph where he chastised the people and maybe had undo influence in their decision-making and their vote may have crossed the line and we are concerned about that," Taylor said.
Booth said he has a responsibility to tell the public the truth.
"If the city is not in a position to move forward with this public safety building, it definitely puts its citizens and its law enforcement at a huge disadvantage," Booth said.
In order for the referendum to succeed and be placed on the November ballot, they need 568 signatures by September 29.