As Salt Lake City weighs a sales tax hike and bonds for a big capital plan, ‘The public process begins’

With millions in new operating costs ahead and the effects of deferred capital maintenance catching up, Salt Lake City will seek public input on a possible half-penny sales tax increase and as much as $87 million in public financing to cover the city’s spending.
The City Council on Tuesday asked its budget team to work with Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s administration on an outreach plan to gauge the public’s appetite for the revenue options. That outreach could include community forums, resident surveys and the like.
“The public process begins,” Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said as the council endorsed the move unanimously Tuesday. One councilman, James Rogers, was absent.
The city is reviewing planned and potential outlays for citywide road repaving, new police officers and police vehicles, and programs for affordable housing, transit and transportation improvements. Some outlays, such as those for new officers and equipment, have already been approved and have largely known costs. Others, including road repairs, remain to be set.
To fund the various initiatives, the mayor, in her Jan. 31 State of the City address, proposed exercising the option to raise the city’s sales tax by half a percentage point, to 7.35 percent. The increase could net as much as $35 million more annually to cover what would be recurring costs, such as the new officers.

A voter-approved bond could help cover the initial phases of what could be a 10-year, $200 million road-repair program for the city, among other capital outlays. In her speech, the mayor said borrowing the full amount obtainable by the city this year, $87 million, would cost about $5 annually per household.
The city starts its 2019 fiscal year July 1. Council members said they wanted to move fast on gathering public input, given the time lags involved with getting both revenue streams online. The sales tax increase can be approved by the council and administration, but it would take four to six months to be implemented, limiting how much additional revenue the city could count on in the upcoming fiscal year.
For any borrowing plan to be on the ballot in November, city officials would need to sign off on it by late August.
“We may not decide to implement either,” Councilman Charlie Luke said Tuesday. “But if there’s a chance that we’re going to do it, I think having staff get everything in order now is critical on both.”
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