Tax, fee hikes in Salt Lake County budget cause angst
It became clear during budget presentations Monday evening why Salt Lake County Council members are swallowing so hard as they digest 2013 budget details.
As if retiring Mayor Peter Corroon's proposed 17.5 percent property tax increase to prop up the general fund were not enough, council members heard that two other price hikes are included to keep the budget balanced.
The first would bolster the County Library System.
Reflecting the thinking of the library's own supervisory board, the mayor's budget proposes about $6.7 million for the system in 2013, which would require a tax increase of about $18.38 for the owner of a $238,000 home, the median value in the county.
An alternative put on the table by council financial adviser Dave Delquadro would cut that increase to $16.20 for that same homeowner.
But it comes at a couple of costs: no money toward a new library in West Valley City, and the likelihood the council will face another tax increase in 2016, rather than forestalling that prospect until 2019 under the mayor's budget.
Either way, the higher library charge would be on top of the $64 increase contemplated for average homeowners if the council approves the 17.5 percent tax hike.
Corroon's budget also calls for higher disposal fees at the landfill, which the county operates with Salt Lake City.
Public Works Director Patrick Leary said a $3 increase in the landfill's tipping fee for individuals is suggested in the budget, an amount that still keeps the fee $1 below the 2013 price projected in the agency's master plan.
An even larger fee increase is contemplated for the big customers the county's own sanitation district, Salt Lake City and large private-sector garbage companies who deposit solid waste at the landfill's transfer station. Use of the transfer station will cost them an additional $5 per ton, Leary projected.
This combination of financial demands prompted County Councilman Steve DeBry to moan: "I feel like a ref ready to throw a flag for piling on."
Even beyond these potential fee or tax increases, presentations Monday by the directors of the public works, human services, community services and administrative services departments emphasized to the council that recession-era reductions have gone as far as they can go.
As Human Services Director Jean Nielsen put it: "We have cut to the bone, if not a bit lower. We can't cut more without closing senior centers and libraries."
In other cases, inflation has squeezed department budgets to a point where relief is needed. One instance cited by Community Services Director Erin Litvack a $226,000 increase is needed to cover the rising cost of water to keep parks and golf courses green.
Budget deliberations will continue Tuesday morning, with County Clerk Sherrie Swensen and the mayor's office kicking off the discussions, which will circle back to consider the library's situation more intimately.
Council members will hold a public hearing Dec. 11 on the proposed budget, anticipating adoption on Dec. 13.
The public hearing on Salt Lake County's 2013 budget will be held Dec. 11. The council is expected to adopt a budget two days later.