The average Salt Lake City resident living in a medium-value residential home will shoulder a yearly increase of about $37 in taxes under a city budget proposal the council approved Tuesday evening.
The extra costs — which are mostly a result of rising sewer and stormwater fees in Salt Lake City — will be more like $42 for residents in high-value homes and $35 for those in lower-value homes, according to estimates the city provided The Salt Lake Tribune.
That’s a result of “significant" improvements that are needed over the next five years “to address the aging sewer and water infrastructure and to add needed capacity with the city’s network of pipeline,” according to Matthew Rojas, a spokesman with the mayor’s office.
The biggest of those projects is the rebuild of a 50-year-old wastewater treatment plant near Rose Park Golf Course in an effort to comply with new state and environmental federal regulations by 2025. To get there, the sewer rate is recommended to continue increasing about 18% each year for the next few years, with an aggregate 112% jump by the year before that project is complete.
In addition to the sewer rate spike, the council is expected to approve a 10% bump for stormwater rates, which are calculated based on the area of a resident’s property.
But it’s not all increases for public utilities this year. Thanks to a proposed change to rate structures, water bills are actually expected to decrease this year by an average of 2.2%, even with a 5% rate increase — though it’s a reality Rojas said Salt Lake City homeowners shouldn’t get used to.
“That rate is slightly lower now, but to be completely fair, there is a five-year plan to raise water and sewer rates and stormwater that has gone through extensive public outreach,” he said. “So this is not going to be normal.”
As part of the rate restructure, the city plans to lower its minimum-use rates in an effort to reduce costs for low-income and low-water users.
Property tax stabilization
Property tax bills will also be higher next year after an upward adjustment to the city’s property tax budget that is expected to match actual revenues received in the previous fiscal year.
Rojas says this is not a property tax rate raise and instead reflects an increase in the value of homes across the city. But under the definition in Utah law, the changes do represent a tax increase and will require a truth-in-taxation hearing.
The average $200,000 home would see an increase of about $4.52 over the course of a year. Homes worth around $301,000 would experience a rise of about $6.80 and a $500,000 home would see an increase of $11.30, according to estimates from the city.
The rate “is still going to be generally based on the value of your home,” Rojas said. “So some [homes] may have gone down a little bit, so they might not pay that full amount that you're seeing; some homes might actually have gone up. But we have to do it as a whole for the city.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s budget proposal had originally also included a 9.5% increase on residential trash collection rates on the largest garbage cans and 42.9% for recycling — a rise the council voted to delay until the city can conduct further public outreach.
It’s been five years since the city has upped garbage fees, though costs to provide services have continually risen faster than the average consumer price index, according to Vicki Bennett, the city’s sustainability department director.
City Council members raised concerns that the price increases would more heavily affect those with larger cans in an effort to incentivize less waste.
“Who are the people who are using the larger cans?” Council Vice Chair James Rogers said during a recent budget hearing. “It’s families; it’s people who have more than two or three people.”
Still, staff in the sustainability department warn that delays may just mean a larger increase will come in a future budget year.
“If we would not do a fee increase this year, we feel that next year, everything else being the same, if we kept the same services, etc., the fee increase would be larger,” Bennett told the council in a recent budget hearing. “We were looking to have it be a step-by-step process.”
While it won’t be reflected on any annual bills, the city is restructuring the way it charges late fees for parking tickets, as well as increasing the parking meter rate by 25 cents per hour, to a total $2.25 an hour.
The increase in the meter fees is a way to make up for revenue loss as a result of compliance with recent changes to state code and is expected to bring in around $393,000 in revenue for fiscal 2020.
The city used to charge a maximum late fee and would offer discounts for early payment. But HB336, which the state Legislature passed last year, limits late penalties to 25% of the original fine, prompting the city to change the way it enforces parking fees.
After receiving final tax information from the state — which resulted in around nearly $1.1 million worth of new available revenue — Biskupski proposed on Tuesday afternoon to use the additional money to cut in half the proposed meter increase from her original proposal of 50 cents per hour, which would have raised approximately $702,255.
“While this is an issue we need to address, the extra revenue gives us some breathing room to implement the increase and engage the public to develop a more comprehensive plan,” she said in a news release.
During its work session meeting Tuesday, the council expressed support for the change, which Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall said was a chance to reduce financial impacts on residents and others who park in the city.
But council members also aired frustrations about the mayor’s role in the process.
“This is not standard practice to have the mayor recommend a budget and then continue making recommendations that change her initial recommendation; once you submit a recommended budget, that is it," said Council Chairman Charlie Luke. “So we appreciate the feedback; we were already moving in that direction anyway, so this isn’t anything great. I think it’s important not to spin that more than you already are trying to.”
The city will also increase the fines for several parking violations. The cost for out-of-date vehicle registration and plates and for parking in an area where parking is prohibited at all times will both increase by $15. The city will raise the fine for an expired meter by $13 and for overtime parking at an unmetered spot by $8.