Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski presented her fourth and final budget to the City Council on Tuesday evening, which contained recommendations she said “firmly” establish the commitments she’s made to the community and create a foundation for future mayors and councils to build on.
The $330 million General Fund Budget, which is now subject to council amendments, requests funding for a variety of public safety initiatives, affordable housing and transportation projects and improvements to the city’s parks and public lands.
Among the mayor’s recommendations is an increase in police salary — a move that follows pleas from police officers to the City Council at some of its recent meetings for more competitive wages. She proposed a 2% salary increase for officers who aren’t scheduled to receive a step increase negotiated as part of their overall contract, as well as a 2% increase in starting wages and a 6% step increase for officers at their 12-year mark.
“This change will help even out the lifetime compensation we offer our police officers, to fully reflect the full 20 to 25-year career path of these public servants who protect our city,” she told the council during a brief on Tuesday evening.
The salary package was accepted by the Salt Lake Police Association last week, she said.
As several local police departments have debated the cost-benefit of police body cameras, Biskupski also sought to signal the city’s commitment to the technology with a proposed $500,000 in revenue appropriated for enhanced body cameras.
“This initiative will fund the upgrade of SLCPD’s current equipment, which must be manually activated, to cameras which will be automatically activated,” she said. “This technology not only brings greater public accountability, and replaces old equipment, it allows officers to focus on protecting the public during stressful and dangerous situations.”
As part of her efforts to prioritize those who “keep this city thriving,” Biskupski’s budget proposal includes a request for a 2% salary increase for all non-union represented employees and $16,000 for a one-time bonus program to incentivize firefighters to attend paramedic school.
She also wants money to increase staffing in several city departments, including $216,000 to add two additional crew members and equipment to the Urban Forestry team, as well as two additional facilities maintenance employees and an additional groundskeeper to care for the city’s buildings.
The 2019-2020 budget encompasses all Salt Lake City departments with the exception of the airport, public utilities and Redevelopment Agency, which as Enterprise Funds present separate budgets to the City Council.
This year’s budget reflects an overall increase in revenues of $28.7 million, including from growth in property and sales tax, a new transportation sales tax the county approved last year and an anticipated increase in revenue from a full year of the Funding Our Future initiative — a 0.5 percent increase to the City’s portion of sales tax passed in May 2018 and an $87 million Streets Reconstruction Bond voters approved in November.
The Funding Our Future money is separated out from the general fund money in the mayor’s budget, with a proposed $7.68 million toward transit, $5.1 million toward affordable housing, $5.4 million toward street maintenance and repair and $12.5 million toward law enforcement efforts.
As part of the city’s efforts to address the state’s affordable housing crunch, Biskupski said she wants to appropriate some of the money she’s proposed be set aside for housing to create two new pilot programs addressing “equity and discrimination.”
One would use a recommended $300,000 to better identify instances of housing discrimination and create a way for residents to receive assistance if they’ve been a victim. The other would use $350,000 to create a landlord insurance program to encourage more building owners to rent to individuals using housing assistance, such as voucher programs.
While most of the mayor’s proposals would be funded from local sources, Biskupski used the last moments of her speech to discuss a “relatively small budget item” she said could have an “enormous impact on the city’s revenues” — a proposed $80,000 for a full-time Census coordinator who would work to ensure every resident is counted in 2020.
“With decisions made at the federal level, including attempts to add a citizenship question and a change in the way the questionnaire is administered, there is already increased concern about the upcoming census,” Biskupski said. “With one of the most economically and racially diverse populations in Utah, Salt Lake City cannot afford to be undercounted.”
Census figures are used to apportion political representation not only on the national and state levels but also for school boards and city councils. The level of respondents determines the amount of federal funding, distributed according to population numbers, that communities receive for a number of key programs over the course of the decade after the census.
“Utah received $3.2 billion over the past decade based on the last Census count,” she said. “Unfortunately, the Legislature declined to provide any additional funding for state-wide efforts to ensure Utahns are properly counted — but the Capital City will not make that mistake.”
Council Vice Chair James Rogers said he was surprised by some of the proposals in the budget, including a $4 million proposal to replace outdated police cars with hybrid vehicles, and was glad to see investment in east-west connectivity transit projects.
This was the first time in five years that the city has avoided using one-time revenue for ongoing costs, which Rogers said was part of what had opened up opportunities to fund new initiatives.
“It’s feast, right?" he said. "But we will have times of famine and the sales tax will come back to bite us so we’ve got to be careful. We’ve just got to make sure that we’ve got a rainy day fund which is hopefully, for me personally, is what I would like to see with council members is just making sure that we are protected.”
The City Council now has time to review the budget proposal and is required to pass one by June 30, 2019. And while Rogers noted that he anticipates changes, he also said he thinks this is the “best budget” he’s ever seen come out of Biskupski’s office.
OTHER BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS:
• $20,000 to bring on three new firefighters specifically to assist with efforts at the Salt Lake City International Airport
• $431,000 to create event grounds at Jordan Park
• $500,000 to purchase and renovate seven additional homes as part of the Community Land Trust program, which helps lower the cost of home ownership
• $713,000 to restore the Seven Canyons Fountain in Liberty Park, which was closed in 2017 due to health and safety concerns
• $1 million for the restoration of the Fisher Mansion Carriage House
• $2.5 million in funding for homeless services programs, including $500,000 to fund a new street outreach program operated by the Volunteers of America
• $4 million to replace 110 of the police department’s worst vehicles with hybrids, which is estimated to save a quarter of a million dollars in fuel in one year and 825 pounds of CO2.
• $21 million total in funding for road repair and maintenance
Correction: Updated May 14 at 5:05 p.m. >> The Seven Canyons Fountain in Liberty Park was closed in 2017 because of health and safety concerns. A previous version of this story gave a different reason for the closure because of an editing error.