Two hearings set on county's proposed tax hike
The public will get two chances this week to weigh in on Salt Lake County's 2013 budget and its two proposed tax increases one to support countywide services, the second for the library system.
County Council members will accept public comment Tuesday and Thursday evenings starting at 6 p.m. on the proposed budget, which would raise property taxes for an average county homeowner by $59 a year to deliver countywide services from Meals on Wheels to running jails and $18.38 to prop up libraries.
Both public hearings are in the First Floor council chambers of the North Building in the County Government Center, 2001 S. State St. The projected increases reflect what would be paid by the owner of a $238,000 home, the county's median value.
The council originally planned to have a public hearing Tuesday, then to vote Thursday on the proposed $785 million budget after council members aired their feelings, said Council Chairman David Wilde.
But to comply with "Truth in Taxation" requirements of the law, the council opted to hear comments from the public both evenings. "I'm prepared to have a hearing Tuesday that could go on for two, three, four hours," said Wilde, leader of the council's 5-4 Republican majority.
Outgoing Mayor Peter Corroon, a Democrat, had proposed a $788 million budget that would have required a 17.5 percent tax boost for countywide services. After three weeks of budget deliberations, the council cut proposed spending by $2.5 million, reducing the proposed tax hike to 16.2 percent.
Council members did not go along with Corroon's plan to fully restore wage and benefit cuts imposed on county employees at the onset of the Great Recession.
They concurred with the mayor's proposal to give the county's 3,600-plus employees a 1.75 percent pay raise, completing the restoration of an earlier 2.75 percent salary cut, but rejected his proposal to return a 2 percent reduction in benefits.
The council also eliminated $500,000 from a wellness program that gave employees financial incentives to be healthy and trimmed $500,000 in spending on information-technology systems.
Some of these savings were offset by the council's addition of two projects not in Corroon's budget $1 million for Living Planet Aquarium in Draper and $250,000 for an underpass serving Dimple Dell Park in Sandy.
Corroon's proposed tax increase would cost the median household about $5 more per year than the council's version. The mayor said it was needed to keep services at present levels, to thank employees for their sacrifices during the lean years, to begin attacking $200 million worth of deferred maintenance projects and to make up for inflation's impact on county revenues since the tax rate was last raised, in 2001.
The Utah Taxpayers Association has criticized the proposal, complaining in its December newsletter that "Taxpayers in Salt Lake County are reaping the consequences of years of bad decision making by their elected officials."
County employees are not entitled to pay increases and "should count themselves lucky they retained their jobs through the Great Recession," the association added. "County government is not a jobs program. If county employees feel they can earn more working elsewhere, the county should not try to dissuade them from leaving. Many people would be happy to take their place."
P The Salt Lake County Council will hold public hearings on the 2013 tentative budget, and its two proposed tax increases, on Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. in the First Floor council chambers, North Building, of the County Government Center, 2001 S. State St.