Becker's budget calls for no layoffs, no tax increases

Published: Tuesday, May 3 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A shift to "more sustainable" budgeting in recent years, combined with a gradually improving economy and three months of sales tax revenue from City Creek Center, has Salt Lake City leaders breathing a little easier this budget season.

No layoffs, no property tax increases and no major cuts to city programs are included in Mayor Ralph Becker's recommended budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

"The budget I present to you this evening demonstrates the capacity of Salt Lake City to meet challenges," Becker told the City Council on Tuesday night. "Once again, we have managed to find solutions posed by tough times without asking for increases to general-fund revenues. … We have found new and more efficient approaches and … have kept property and sales tax rates for the city's operating budget unchanged."

Recommendations by the mayor and decisions made by the City Council last year included trimming the city's general fund by $18 million and eliminating 67 city jobs. Those deep cuts, along with significant belt-tightening in the 2009-10 fiscal year, moved the city toward a budget that city leaders say is sustainable going forward.

"Economic challenges have pressed us to make tough, thoughtful decisions about how we effectively and efficiently provide city services," Becker said.

The mayor's recommended budget includes only $1.5 million in one-time funds, and most of that money is proposed to cover one-time expenses. That means ongoing revenue sources are in place to cover all ongoing expenses.

"While one-time funding can make a great Band-Aid for near-term challenges, it is ultimately money that will not sustain us," Becker said.

City budget officials have identified $7 million in additional revenue for 2011-12, including a projected $1.9 million boost in sales tax collections. Of that, city officials estimate $300,000 will come from City Creek Center, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' massive, mixed-use development in the heart of downtown.

City Creek officials are projecting the residential, retail and office complex to attract 14 million visitors a year when it opens March 22, 2012.

"I think everyone is anticipating that City Creek is going to have an enormous attraction value downtown for shopping," Becker said earlier Tuesday.

The city also is expecting to gain $1.8 million by implementing a good-landlord program, which will require all rental units to be licensed. In addition to providing revenue, Becker says he believes the program will address neighborhood concerns about landlords who aren't following city policies.

"We'll have a better idea of who all the landlords are, and we'll have a better way for landlords to be informed about what their responsibilities are," the mayor said.

Of the 10.5 new positions proposed in Becker's general fund budget, five of those are associated with the good-landlord program. Becker proposes to reduce 9.5 vacant positions, resulting in a net increase of one full-time job.

The mayor also is proposing raises for all city employees, enough to cover their additional responsibility for health insurance costs.

"The net effect of the (pay) bump was, with employees' health care costs going up, their paychecks won't be diminished," Becker said.

The mayor also is proposing the creation of an enterprise fund for street lighting. In an effort to save money in recent years, city crews have not replaced lights as they've burned out. Allowing certain street lights to remain dark saved the city about $500,000 last year, said Gina Chamness, the city's budget director.

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