Mayor Ralph Becker: No tax hike or pay raises this year
If you live in Salt Lake City, your property taxes won't be going up at least not this year.
But Mayor Ralph Becker warned Tuesday evening in his annual budget address that the city cannot continue to deliver services at current levels with existing revenues, indicating one option in the next fiscal year may be a tax increase. In the coming year, he said he would seek public input to "optimize" next year's budget.
Becker said his administration has stretched municipal finances as far as it can during challenging financial times in which revenues have been limited and some expenditures, like retirement and medical benefits, continue to skyrocket.
The mayor's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14 that begins July 1 is set at $213 million, up from $206 million this year. Sales tax revenues are up about 3 percent over last year, but property tax revenues remain flat.
The budget calls for no net decrease nor increase in personnel, although some departments may gain or lose staff.
The City Council will begin its budget deliberations May 7.
Beginning July 1, the mayor said he will ask residents, business owners and others for input on next year's budget.
"The public effort will seek to engage community members on the conditions of our roads, water, sewer, parks, buildings, trails and other public infrastructure and our future desires," he said. "This effort must include a review of the quality and amount of service delivery."
Those funding options could include an increase in property taxes. It also could include bolstering other funding streams, such as increased fines and forfeitures. The city also will continue to seek federal grants. But those may be impacted by federal sequestration.
Not least, Becker said he wants to emphasize "efficiencies," such as the planned combining of police and fire dispatch services. The city also has adjusted its medical benefits package for increased savings, the mayor said.
Nonetheless, despite the uptick in the economy, increased sales tax revenues cannot keep pace with retirement and medical benefits, Becker said.
The mayor explained that each of the annual budgets he has submitted to the council the last six years has not raised property taxes and has reduced and deferred projects as a result of lower revenues. He added that city employees have received few, if any, raises in the past few years.
The 2013-14 budget was the "most difficult" his administration has put together, Becker said.
"We can no longer continue to provide services to residents at the level we provide them, accommodate the growth in our business and residential sphere, and host visitors from our own state, neighboring states and the world without properly funding our employees and the city departments who deliver the facilities and services," he said.
The belt-tightening does not mean Salt Lake City will stop moving into the future. The mayor cited new light rail and streetcar lines, as well as a new public safety building and the planned Utah Performing Arts Center as the types of things that city residents want.
"We are going to keep this city moving forward," Becker said in an interview. "The hallmark of this city is that we are going to continue to make improvements that make this city exceptional."
City Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa said the mayor's proposed budget will be difficult because it is so tight.
The council must adopt a budget prior to July 1. The council will not see the mayor's formal budget proposal until May 7.
LaMalfa said he fears the body will run up against tough decisions if infrastructure needs are put off again.
There are members of the council who believe infrastructure improvements have been put off for too long, LaMalfa said, and waiting another year is not a good idea.
Becker 2013-14 budget highlights
No property tax increase.
No net gain or loss of employees.
No across-the-board pay raises for employees.
Mayor to seek public input for next year's budget.
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