Pay raise, level taxes in Salt Lake County budget proposal
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is requesting no tax increases in his proposed 2014 budget.
But the $870 million spending plan released Tuesday which the County Council will review for weeks before adopting in final form in mid-December does include several new elements. The 2014 budget would:
• Set aside $5.8 million to buy land for an envisioned joint-operations center for parks and recreation and for public works.
• Provide employees with a 2.5 percent, across-the-board pay raise, the first since 2009. The budget also restores the final retirement benefits cut in 2008 because of the Great Recession and adds autism coverage to health-insurance plans.
• Allocate funding for two community theaters, one in West Valley City, the other in Cottonwood Heights.
• Provide $800,000 to help cities link existing networks of trails and bike routes.
• Expand the county's involvement in boosting pre- and after-school programs, moving into the Sandy/White City area in partnership with Canyons School District and the state Department of Workforce Services.
• Boost funding for Clark Planetarium by 23 percent to update exhibits.
• Add only one employee, a compensation analyst to evaluate long-term hiring trends.
"I am proposing to finance the decisions that must be acted on today," McAdams said, "to prepare for a tomorrow of our choosing."
For that reason, he pledged to support private-sector job growth, particularly in small and mid-size businesses. McAdams also emphasized the need to expand regional development efforts, such as consolidating 911 emergency dispatch services, which he said will save lives and money.
"Metro areas are big, complicated and so diverse that they don't need heroes they need networks," he said. "I believe that the Greater Salt Lake area has the potential for an economy that delivers wide-reaching prosperity. For that to occur, neighbors must be partners."
Interconnected bike and pedestrian trails are one way to do that, he said, while working with other organizations to add more community theaters is another.
"Our metro area will have lower unemployment, safer streets, cleaner air and more arts, parks, trails and open spaces if we work together," McAdams said.
The mayor said he eliminated $28 million in funding requests by independent elected officials and departments under his supervision.
He also vowed to make sure that any future decisions about moving the state prison from its present location in the southern end of the county makes sense financially. "If the move doesn't pencil in favor of Utah taxpayers, I won't support it."
In the opening line of his speech, McAdams emphasized the budget was "structurally balanced," meaning that none of the 40-some accounts that make up the overall county budget have to borrow from other funds to avoid red ink.
That's a financial situation viewed favorably by both the credit-rating agencies that have assigned Salt Lake County a top-flight AAA rating for several years now and by the Republican-majority council.
"A Democratic mayor sounding like a Republican," GOP Councilman David Wilde joked later of the mayor's admittedly conservative budget.
Longtime Republican councilman Michael Jensen, serving as the acting council chairman Tuesday because Steve DeBry was out of town, said he liked most of what the mayor had said, but quickly added "my position is trust but verify."
McAdams delivered his proposed budget about two weeks earlier than usual. In late summer, the County Council moved up the timeline to prevent a repeat of what happened last year. Then-Mayor Peter Corroon did not announce that his 2013 budget required a 17 percent countywide tax increase until after the general election, when voters approved a bond that increased taxes to build parks and trails.
Several Republican councilmen believe voters would have rejected the parks bond if they had known a general tax increase was coming. So the council's new timetable requires McAdams and future mayors to reveal their budgets before Election Day.