Corroon: County tax increase needed
I presented my eighth and final budget proposal to the Salt Lake County Council a week ago. The 2013 proposed budget is a 3 percent increase over the current budget; it's essentially flat and actually includes $5.6 million in base budget cuts and some workforce reductions.
However, it requires $30.9 million in new revenues to close the gap.Â Therefore, I am recommending a general fund tax increase of $64 per year on the average home. That amounts to 3 percent of the total property tax bill.
This is the first increase in the countywide property tax in 12 years.Â I believe this proposal offers the best path to keep our county government stable.
Salt Lake County has reached a point where further cuts are not advisable because they would lead to devastating results, including:
• The closure of public facilities including recreation centers, senior centers, and libraries;
• The district attorney would have to choose which crimes and criminals to prosecute;
• The sheriff would have to close Oxbow Jail, and
• We'd have major layoffs of county employees
There are questions regarding the timing of my announcement since it came two days following the elections. We did this to ensure the outcome of the process was not tainted by politics.
However, the need for a tax increase should be no surprise. We've used all our savings in the past three years and we've been discussing the need to increase revenues for more than a year.
On Oct. 16, we presented our 2013 revenue report and projections to the council. At that time our budget briefing for the coming year included a sizeable gap between revenues and expenditures.
And in my budget message to the council last year I made this clear statement:
"Our belts are about as tight as they can go. It's a fact that we have been cutting since 2009 and that we are down to the bone. It's a fact that county government services will decline significantly if new revenue is not provided next year. And it's a fact we cannot cut our way out of this problem. Natural inflation would demand more cuts every year. There has been no general fund property tax increase for more than a decade and inflation over the same time has been 21 percent. We have wrung all we can from fund balances."
That was last year. Again this year we cut budgets, trimmed staff and generally sought more ways to scrimp and save on the cost of county services. However, these cuts could not close the gap. I asked our elected officials and department heads to present budgets that included 10 percent cuts. We evaluated them but in the end knew it was the wrong direction.
The budget proposal, including a tax increase, provides:
• $8.55 million for capital deferred maintenance
• $6.87 million for an employee compensation package returning salaries to 2009 levels
• $5.5 million for essential requests
• $8.87 million to address structural deficits, and
• $1.9 million to fund our other post employment benefits like health insurance for retirees.
Salt Lake County has made significant cuts for the past several years. Since the last increase in 2001, the county's population exploded, the economy cratered. In response we cut budgets and workforce; we froze hiring, froze some benefits, reduced others and cut salaries. Every step was designed to maintain existing services.
We have consensus among our nine county elected executives, our department leadership and budget team that further cuts will harm service delivery.
This proposal is structurally balanced, protects our triple-A bond rating, takes a major first step toward erasing the backlog of deferred capital maintenance, and restores salaries and benefits to near 2009 levels.
No one likes a tax increase. But our county offers valued services and has seen explosive growth at the same time we are collecting essentially the same amount of property tax revenue.
The question is: fix the deficit now or at a higher cost later? Now is the time.
Peter Corroon is mayor of Salt Lake County.