Pondering pepperoni pizza and the price of providing police protection

Feb 23 2013 - 11:22pm


If you wonder why pizza delivery is so good, and your local police department struggles, consider this: You get what you pay for.

I've looked into this. I'm amazed the cops show up at all.

I got curious when we had the kids over and I ordered delivery pizza. Two large stuffed-crust supremes cost $30, plus a tip.

After everyone left, I was noodling around Facebook and saw one of those pithy sayings people put up to spread alleged wisdom. This one said: "We live in a world where the pizza delivery guy gets to your house before the police."

For the record, the pizza dude took 45 minutes. I live in Ogden, where the police promise faster times but, obviously, it depends. If I call about a stolen pizza, I suspect they'll handle the triple ax murder first.

This isn't just about pizza.

One of America's national sports is complaining about how backbreakingly high our taxes are and how crappy government service is. We demand taxes be cut and service improved.

So I asked: How much do I pay for 24/7 protection from Ogden's finest, including personal visits if crime strikes?

The most direct way I pay money to Ogden is my property tax, which last year was $211. I also pay monthly sewer, water and garbage fees, but those only pay for those services, not the police. Those monies go to separate funds in the city's budget.

The police department is funded out of the General Fund, which is $51 million. The General Fund also covers the fire department, public services, the mayor and council, management services and community and economic development.

The police get $17.7 million of the General Fund, about a third.

Police are expensive. Ogden Comptroller Laurie Johnson said that if you simply divide the cost of the police department among the 32,482 households in Ogden you get $547.55. That is more than double my property tax, even assuming all my property taxes go to the cops, which they do not.

Am I a freeloader? No. Property tax is a small part of Ogden's total operating revenue. This year the city collected just $10.2 million in property taxes.

Fortunately, the General Fund also gets money from sales taxes, building permits, franchise taxes, intergovernmental revenue, dog licenses and a whole bunch of other stuff, much of which I don't pay.

My $211 is pooled into the General Fund's $51 million. The cops' $17.7 million is roughly a third of the General Fund, so roughly a third of my property tax, $73, is paying for my 24/7 protection, gang programs, crime detection and other stuff.

That same $73 will buy my family two pizza dinners, with tips, and maybe bread sticks.

See the problem? $73 sounds cheap when it's buying two complete dinners for six adults and three small children. Even when the price of pizza goes up, people pay because people like pizza.

Presumably people like police protection, but suggest higher taxes to get more protection and you'll hear a chorus of people screaming "The cops should learn to live on what they get!"

But what the Ogden Police Department gets from each of us isn't very much: $73 a year from me works out to 23 cents a day.

Would you protect me for 23 cents a day? I'm not even sure I would.

Maybe the police should deliver pizzas. At least then they'd get tips.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can contact him at 801-625-4232 or email him at ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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