With Salt Lake City finding significant public support for new spending to fix streets, add police, subsidize housing and improve transit, the roadshow that Mayor Jackie Biskupski and other city officials have embarked on to promote the plan is starting to look like a victory lap.
That outreach tour stopped Wednesday at The Salt Lake Tribune as the mayor and City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall, joined by aides and department heads, outlined the city’s twin revenue proposals and how the money would be used. Though the plans appear to have won broad backing, the mayor and council leader have not slowed down on selling them.
The council is poised to approve a 0.5 percent sales tax increase — equal to a nickel on every $10 spent — as early as next week that would generate $33 million in new money annually. The council is also on track in the coming months to authorize a November referendum seeking voter approval for an $87 million bond to fund up to 10 years of catch-up road repairs.
City officials have made the rounds of constituent meetings largely with the winds of public sentiment at their backs: Programs that the new revenue would pay for are popular, have been well-publicized, and, in a way, thoroughly test-marketed. The city has surveyed residents on the spending priorities — housing, transit, public safety and streets. It has done direct mailings, met with business groups and community councils, held public forums and hearings, and created a website where visitors can review the proposals and take another survey.
“We’re seeing about 70 percent support rate for us to implement this sales tax [increase], pursue the bond, and pursue implementation of our plans that we’ve created over the last couple years,” the mayor told Tribune editors Wednesday.
With more than 1,700 responses recorded as of Wednesday morning, the website survey has notched 68 percent support for both the sales tax hike and the bond, according to the city. It also registered outsized majorities supporting road repairs (86 percent), improved east-west bus routes (66 percent), more affordable housing (71 percent) and more public safety spending (65 percent). Those numbers mirror polling the city did in January.
Business leaders, in meetings with the city, have expressed concern about the seeming haste to enact the sales tax increase and the appearance that it is a done deal.
“Salt Lake City has some real needs and this may very well be the best way to address them. But our board has expressed concerns about the expedited approval process,” said Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, which has about 2,500 city businesses as members
The group does not oppose the tax outright, Mathis said. “But we think some additional time to vet the concept and develop a more thorough plan would help our businesses feel better about the concept.”a
Mendenhall on Wednesday attributed the overall high buy-in to publicity the city has channeled into those initiatives as they were formulated, fine-tuned and ultimately approved over the past two years. Housing and transit master plans and the police hires were approved last fall. Results of a road condition survey, conducted last summer, were publicized in January.a
“It feels like a very informative process, a very educated public,” Mendenhall said, “and we are hearing a good amount of support from residents.”
Biskupski and Mendenhall touted some of the city’s main selling points and their associated costs.
• The sales tax increase is a fairer way to spread the costs of road and transit improvements and stepped-up public safety among a larger population that benefits from those improvements, including tourists, commuters and other nonresidents. Sixty percent of sales tax revenue comes from purchases by people who don’t live in Utah’s capital.
• The 50 new police officers, among 63 total new public safety hires, would allow for the creation of 23 new community policing beats.
• The new money for roads would more than double the amount of maintenance the city could do each year — from 75 to 155 lane miles.
• Expanded, more frequent and dependable transit could allow a family to give up one car and save $11,000 a year.
The mayor said the Funding Our Future website will eventually be turned into a dashboard residents can check to “see how this funding is being tracked, what projects are being done, and how we’re making progress through our laundry list of things to do.”