At Orem's first public hearing on a proposed property tax increase Tuesday, one word was on many residents' minds: UTOPIA.
"It's time to stop the bleeding," said resident Jared Jardine.
The city has pledged to pay $2.8 million for the struggling fiber-optic network in its 2012-13 budget. City leaders are proposing an increase in property taxes to cover that cost and other expenditures, about $3.3 million.
For the past few years, the city's reserve fund has been footing the UTOPIA bill, but those funds are dwindling. And the city has made cuts in order to forgo raising property taxes, about $3.7 million in the past four years, primarily because of a $3.5 million loss in sales tax revenue.
Now the city says it can cut no more and needs residents' help to maintain services and pay for UTOPIA.
But "dipping into the pockets of homeowners" is not the solution and will only result in further loss in sales tax revenue, said Taylor Oldroyd, of the Utah County Association of Realtors. He added that because UTOPIA isn't available to all residents, property tax revenues shouldn't be used to pay for it.
One subscriber to UTOPIA, Edward Madsen, agreed: "Utopia was oversold to the city, it was overdone," he said. "I have UTOPIA. I have no problem with the service itself. … Everyone's having a hard time, they can, too."
Carl Hernandez, a resident, reminded people at the meeting that the city made a promise to pay for UTOPIA, whether residents like it or not: "Integrity tells us we've got to meet that obligation" whether the city has to increase property taxes or reduce services.
Jardine wanted to know what UTOPIA has done with the $185 million it issued in bonds, which were backed by its 11 member cities, including Orem.
"The city should spearhead an effort to find out where the $185 million was spent," he said.
Lester Moody had his eye on the future: "I'm smart enough to know there's another [tax increase] coming, and another and another" because UTOPIA is behind schedule.
The city's next public hearing is Tuesday.