Salt Lake City Council passes final budget, approves bumps for fire and police funding

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake City Airport Police, established in 1984, is presented with a new patch and badge as they are subsumed into the Salt Lake City Police Department on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

The Salt Lake City Council gave final approval Tuesday to a $331 million General Fund Budget that provides money for public streets and transportation, housing affordability and sustainability projects and homelessness services needs.

Council Chairman Charlie Luke said the council had worked to foster “efficiency, clarity, accountability and transparency” in the funding decisions the panel has made since receiving Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s final budget proposal last month.

“The result of the attention to financial details has been a streamlined budget that provides for a better quality of life for Salt Lake City residents,” he said during the council’s formal meeting on Tuesday. “We have confidence this work will help us build a more vibrant, transparent capital city.”

Also included in the budget were increases for police pay — a move that follows pleas from officers to the City Council at some of its recent meetings for more competitive wages.

In their comments to the council, Salt Lake City police have noted that they deal with more calls for services than other law enforcement agencies in the Wasatch Front and are more likely than others to deal with hazardous situations; yet their highest pay cap was lower than in municipalities like Murray, Sandy, Cottonwood Heights and Kaysville.

In an effort to address the challenges in retention officers say come as a result, the City Council approved the mayor’s proposal for 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.

The council also used $168,000 to fund an additional six firefighters and created a new 2.5% step increase for firefighters at the nine-year mark, which will be funded through new growth revenues, and created a one-time $4,000 incentive for up to four firefighters who receive paramedic certification.

“If you look at what the core responsibilities of city government are, public safety is right at the top,” Luke told The Salt Lake Tribune after the meeting. “Our residents need to know that they are being looked after and protected, and our firefighters and police need to also know that we have their backs and we’re going to provide them with the resources they need to do their jobs.”

To help offset the cost of the new firefighters, the council had originally proposed overtime savings and a two-month delay in the hiring of 23 new police officers to avoid using money from the Funding Our Future sales-tax initiative — a package to fund street maintenance, affordable housing, transit and public safety. Following the decision to use new revenues for firefighters, that money will now be used to fund one-time needs in the city, according to budget analysts.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski criticized the council’s original plan in a news release Tuesday morning, noting that the city had defined “neighborhood safety” specifically as law enforcement during its community outreach process on a 0.5% tax increase.

“I have deep concern about using the Funding Our Future revenue for anything other than what the residents prioritized in their support for the sales tax increase,” she said in a statement. “With less than a full year of the Funding Our Future initiative completed, I think it’s critical we stick to our commitment to the residents. The Council runs the risk of breaking trust with the public by funding things other than the priorities identified by residents.”

Luke noted that it’s not uncommon for the City Council and administration to disagree on funding decisions. And while the council ultimately went in a different direction, he said they feel the money for firefighters would fall under the public safety umbrella.

“When we were putting the budget together, what we were focused on wasn’t on where the money was going to come from but it was on funding firefighters,” he told The Tribune. “The mayor left that out of her budget. There was no increase for firefighters. So we figured out where to do it.”

The council on Tuesday also adopted the budgets for the Redevelopment Agency, the Local Building Authority and for the Library, Airport and Public Utilities, which present separate budgets to the City Council.

The mayor now has 15 business days to sign the General Fund budgets, veto some or all of it or allow it to go into effect without her signature.