As Salt Lake City emerges from a year marked by economic uncertainty, a reckoning with racial injustice and an ongoing public health crisis, Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the community now confronts a turning point.
It’s time, she said, to “blaze a new trail.”
The mayor presented her recommended budget, which includes a general fund of just under $350 million, for fiscal 2021-22 on Tuesday night to the City Council.
Mendenhall said a big infusion of federal cash coming from the American Rescue Plan, coupled with the city’s relatively strong economic position, presents an opportunity. She plans to pump more money into affordable housing, greater public safety, cleaner air and improved quality of life for west-siders.
“We have the chance to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our city and its people,” Mendenhall said. “This budget begins the work of seizing this moment for our future.”
The City Council will ultimately approve the budget, after holding public hearings, before the fiscal year begins in July. The mayor is not proposing a tax increase.
The mayor’s recommended general fund spending is up about $24 million compared to last year, when the city’s elected officials cut back as they braced for economic impacts from the coronavirus pandemic. Revenues across all budget funds are now up by more than 9%, due partly to a surge of federal pandemic aid that’s on the way.
“That we are in this position after all the pivoting we did last year is remarkable,” Mendenhall said, “and it’s thanks to judicious department directors and well-run divisions that we were able to redirect and absorb many unanticipated costs.”
The city is slated to receive another $87 million from the federal government in addition to money previously issued under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The mayor said she intends to use those funds to revitalize neighborhoods, businesses and cultural districts, with more details to come next month.
“Our comprehensive plan will not only take care of our city’s fiscal health and the well-being of our city family,” Mendenhall said, “it will help spark the post-pandemic renaissance.”
In response to last year’s protests and hours-long public comment periods decrying police violence and racial inequality, Mendenhall and the council formed the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing to explore the police budget and develop suggestions to improve law enforcement’s interactions with the community.
Now the mayor is earmarking $200,000 for additional diversity and inclusion training for officers and $20,000 to fund peer court, which provides an alternative to the criminal justice system for youths.
Mendenhall’s budget also proposes funding six additional social workers to aid law enforcement.
“There are emergency situations where a trained mental health professional is a more appropriate first responder than a police officer,” Mendenhall said, “but right now we don’t have enough social workers to cover every shift.”
In all, the mayor’s recommendations boost the city’s police department budget by about $4.3 million, an increase of 5.4% compared to last year.
The mayor plans to make permanent the Community Commitment Program, a neighborhood cleaning and homelessness outreach effort that began last fall. Her budget includes $1 million for public safety and outreach assistance for the unsheltered.
To address the city’s housing crisis, Mendenhall said the city’s Redevelopment Agency would have $10.4 million to preserve or build 350 affordable housing units, with at least 116 rented to those making 50% or less of the area’s median income.
The dilapidated Raging Waters park, in the Glendale neighborhood, would receive $10 million to transform it into a regional park, the mayor said.
“It is long since time,” Mendenhall said, “that our west-side neighborhoods have a park of the caliber of Liberty or Sugar House Park.”
The mayor would also reduce noise pollution in the area by quieting train horns and creating quiet zones at train crossings.
The mayor’s budget includes line items for clean air and the environment as well. Mendenhall plans to add more air quality monitors and a public-facing mobile app to the tune of $85,000, and $200,000 would go to the city’s renewable energy and climate equity plan.
“This climate and equity planning process will help us achieve our climate goals,” she said, “while also improving the lives of vulnerable and historically marginalized residents.”
Another $325,000 would fund a new community renewable energy program.
“This investment means that we are turning the ambition of a 100% renewable energy goal into a reality,” Mendenhall said, “with all of the legal, expert and regulatory work that it entails.”
In the year ahead, the city can also expect bigger investments in emergency management, road maintenance, trails and improved public transportation, including micro transit, according to the mayor’s presentation.
“Through all that 2020 taught and took from us, it’s also offered us a new future,” Mendenhall said. “We are on our way with this budget and the future is bright, Salt Lake City.”
Correction • May 4, 8:05 p.m.: The mayor is proposing $20,000 to fund peer court. An earlier version had an incorrect amount.