As Cottonwood Heights’ City Council works to balance its budget for the 2018–19 fiscal year, a number of residents say they agree there’s a need to cut spending — but not from public safety.
The tentative budget, which the council passed Tuesday evening, proposes trims from a number of departments, including fire and police, after requests for funds came in $2 million over what the city could afford.
That deficit led many of the residents who spoke during public comment on the budget to question the city’s priorities and past financial choices.
“Where were these decisions made to put the city in such a fiscal crisis?” asked resident Ed Schwartz. “I hope that [the council is] brave enough and diligent enough to look at how bloated some of our departments are in the city and [see that] there is no need to reduce the force of our fire department from four to three.”
Part of the city’s budget crunch comes from an additional $800,000 needed for long-overdue road improvements and an additional $205,000 to accommodate changes in the way the Unified Fire Authority charges for services, according to Mayor Michael Peterson.
He acknowledged the concerns among residents and city staff about the impact of the proposed cuts. But because the budget is tentative, he noted it will likely go through changes between now and mid-June.
“Public safety, both fire and police, are a high priority,” Peterson said in an interview before the meeting. “We definitely don’t want to sacrifice the safety in any way of our community. So those concerns are something that we’ll clearly look at, and I don’t think citizens need to be overly concerned yet.”
Other proposed employee cuts would eliminate an events coordinator, a public works employee and the assistant city manager. The budget would also scrap the city’s newsletter.
Cliff Burningham, president of a Salt Lake County fire union, said the cuts to fire personnel from four crew members per shift to three at one station could have “significant” impacts on efficiency and city safety. That’s one fewer person helping with CPR on medical calls, he said, and also means firefighters would have to wait for reinforcements before entering a burning house if they’re unsure a victim is inside.
Cottonwood Heights Police Officer Kevin Salmon said the proposed cuts would have similar impacts on law enforcement. Funding for such things as road improvements is critical, he said. But it “should not be done at the risk of the citizens.”
The council hasn’t raised property taxes in Cottonwood Heights’ 13 years as a city, Peterson said, and that’s something it may consider in the future as a way to increase revenue. Several residents at the meeting said they would support such a move.
“I’m totally in favor of paying my fair share of taxes or fees that we need to to make sure that the city’s employees get what they deserve,” said resident Tim Hallbeck.