Public comment on proposed property tax increase for the City of St. George


Rob Latham
3143 South 840 East, #420
St. George, Utah 84790

“That’s a nice property you’ve got there.
Would be a shame if something happened to it.”

That is the language of a protection racket, and yet that is the implied message behind this campaign to raise property taxes.

Let me first acknowledge the good work of the claimed beneficiaries of this property tax increase. If it were up to me, those providing public safety, police, fire and dispatch services would have higher salaries and benefits. But fewer of them would be employed by the City of St. George.

Instead, most who provide these services would be working with the kind of privately-funded safety organizations described in a study titled “Police Choice: Feasible Policy Options for a Safer and Freer Society” by scholar Corey DeAngelis. Dr. DeAngelis also responds to the anticipated objections to such a proposal.

In his study, Dr. DeAngelis reminds us that, first, government police have no legal obligation to protect us or our property (“government does not even have a duty to protect its citizens or even respond to their calls”). Also keep in mind that because of a legal doctrine called qualified immunity, it is extremely difficult to hold a government police officer or a government police agency civilly liable for misconduct.

I also commend an article by historian Stephen Davies titled “The Private Provision of Police During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” which may be found in the book, The Voluntary City. And more support for market-based dispute resolution services — as compared to the monopoly model that is failing so many who work both within and without of those systems — may be found in the book To Serve and Protect, by economist Bruce L. Benson, who chairs the economics department at Florida State University.

The figure the City has provided for this five-year plan is almost $90 million, and appears to double-down on a failed monopoly system that more and more of us are working to replace with more accountable and responsive market-based systems.

Using the “police choice” idea I mentioned earlier, how about giving each of St. George’s 100,000 residents a $180 annual voucher or tax credit or encouraging the creation of Rights Enforcement Savings Accounts — like Health Savings Accounts — that could be used to subscribe to a private security company?

The cost of hiring personal private security can cost between $20 and $100 per hour depending on the situation and the training of the private security officer. Most of us won’t need that level of security. But if we subscribed to a private security company, as has worked successfully in the past, there should be more than enough protection to keep us safe.

I understand that the City has committed to enact this plan in stages, and that it can decide to go in a different direction next year or the year after that.

Given that there are less extortionate ways to keep our community safe, it’s clear that this proposed property tax increase is a vote buying scheme. Why do I say that? Well, who also benefits?

The 68 new police officers and civilians, and their dependents, will be reliable votes to re-elect those who vote for this property tax increase. That explains why the Fraternal Order of Police supports it.

The dealerships providing the 146 new and replacement vehicles and their employees will be reliable votes for re-election. That explains why the Chamber of Commerce supports it.

Let’s assume that this plan becomes law in a way similar to so many plans that socialize costs and privatize profits. How can the citizens of St. George protect themselves from being overtaxed, overpoliced, and under-protected?

First, if we are serving on a jury, we have the right to vote not guilty if the law is unjust or being unjustly applied. Many citizens of St. George may decide, for example, that those who are behind this property tax increase will not receive justice in our courts until wrongs have been made right.

I also encourage residents to support deprioritization of cannabis possession enforcement in the City of St. George. I looked on the calendar for the Washington County Justice Court, and found hearings for almost 200 cases involving marijuana, just through the end of this month. Now, all of those are not City of St. George cases, but think of the waste those cases cause our police officers, court employees, and everyone else. More than one dozen jurisdictions around the U.S. have made enforcement of marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority in the past two decades; places like Hailey, Idaho and Missoula County, Montana.

Finally, the City of St. George should join the more than two dozen municipalities across Utah that are reducing their election budget by eliminating primary elections and having one general election using ranked choice voting. All of you sit on the city council by winning a plurality of voter support, not a majority of voter support, at your respective primary and general elections. So, it’s understandable that you might prefer the current election system, but my guess is that most of you would do just fine under ranked-choice voting, and that’s what studies show.

The City is budgeting almost $200,000 for elections, and could cut that number in half. The Utah-based Sutherland Institute published its study of ranked-choice elections in April of this year. Among the several benefits of ranked-choice voting — including better alignment between city policy decisions and voter preferences, more civility in campaigns, and most voters who used RCV like using RCV — it also saves taxpayer funds in election administration.