The Kanab City Library’s meeting hall was full past capacity on August 8, 2023, as citizens attended a contentious City Council meeting; a meeting set to make the final decision on the proposed 93 percent tax increase on property taxes. The meeting began at 6:30 p.m. sharp. The entire council was in attendance, along with City Manager Kyler Ludwig and City Attorney Kent Burggraaf.
Though the topic that drew so many attendees was clear, it was still a city council meeting, and it began with the regular starting procedures of prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. The work meeting had little to report, which led us to the first public comment period of the evening.
Mayor Colten Johnson carefully outlined the rules of public comment in a meeting like this, under the correct assumption that those rules would be called into play over the course of the evening; then the general purpose public comment period began, with the Mayor stating, “The agenda items that have the tax increase involved will each have their own public comment period, so this public comment period is for other concerns that do not have to do with the tax increase.”
The public did have a few general concerns, including potholes and litter cleanup near the new elementary school, vacation rentals and potential for more police presence on Hwy 89a. Following that open public comment period, the meeting transitioned into the key topic of the night.
City Manager Kyler Ludwig led with an extensive information session, with numbers and graphs to show how taxpayer money is being used, how Kanab City’s taxes compare to nearby municipalities and how the proposed tax increase would affect the budget. Ludwig stated the need for the new increase by demonstrating not only that Kanab City’s property taxes were relatively low as they were, but also that the city’s expenditures had exceeded their revenue, and that the city’s accounts were draining to levels approaching violation of state statute.
After Ludwig’s report, the council opened the floor for public comment. There were a number of comments both for and against the proposed increase, though the latter party was observably the majority of those who spoke. Opposition to the proposal stated that the tax increase was egregious and unnecessary, and put too much of a burden on the citizens, particularly those who are elderly and on fixed incomes. Proponents of the tax increase cited the need of public service and emergency response agencies like the police and the fire department, stating that the equipment used by those agencies is drastically sub-par to the point of literally life-threatening. Many of those who stood up in support of the tax increase were members of public safety offices, such as police and volunteer firefighters.
A third party also emerged in the midst of the debate; a number of citizens presented a compromising voice, with one speaker summing up the stance neatly, “I’m willing to pay more taxes for things like good roads and for our emergency responders, just not so much all at once … can this be spread out, ten, fifteen percent at a time over a few years?” Another stated, “I feel like you’re trying to right the wrongs of the last three, four years, overnight.”
Once everyone who had something to say had said their piece, the Mayor checked and double checked that no-one else wanted to take the mic. “I just want to make doubly sure that everyone who has something to say has said it,” Mayor Johnson confirmed before moving on to the Council’s portion of the meeting.
After a weighty silence, Councilmember Chris Heaton took the mic, stating initially “Alright, I’ll go first.” Heaton applauded the composure of the public and the respectful way they’d presented their views, before presenting his stance on the subject. Said Heaton, “I would love to see that 93 percent broken out over one year, two years - but I just don’t see how we can do that. Do we need all 93 percent? Yes, I wholeheartedly believe we do.”
Councilmember Scott Coulson followed Heaton’s comments with a similar refrain; “For us to do this incrementally, we have to choose who suffers - what issue do we decide to prolong? … this is not just a number we’re throwing out to see what we can get from you, we’ve been calculating this for a long time. I hope we can earn your trust and respect … and your understanding that we’re locals, we’re part of this community.”
Each member of the council following would present their own views and opinions, with all of them coming to the same conclusion: that this tax increase is necessary and conservative. Mayor Johnson spoke last, stating, “We’re not always unanimous … and I would say we’re barely ever unanimous. That we’re unanimous on this should tell you something. I support 93 percent. We were running on fumes before, and even this is only getting us part of the way there.”
After extensive discussion and commentary from the council - the portion of the evening that took the majority of the meeting’s time - the motion to approve the resolution was finally made. The council, indeed, voted unanimously to approve the motion to institute the tax increase. Motion passed.
As 9 p.m. rolled around, the meeting transitioned to the next item on the agenda; the year’s budget, which was dependent on the tax increase decision before it could be finalized. With the understanding that the tax increase had been approved, the council was able to inform the budget further, and after some discussion and correction of the budget resolution, the motion was made and passed.
Ultimately, the motion to adjourn was made and passed, and the meeting closed.