2013 is not the year for Salt Lake City to increase property taxes. While raising taxes may seem like a relatively easy approach to solve our budget issues, Salt Lake City is able to continue with basic services and facilities and move forward with important improvements without raising taxes. Since I entered office in 2008, I have not proposed a property tax increase for city operations. The City Council has consistently concurred with those recommendations in past years.
The budget I sent to the City Council last month did not require a tax hike. Property tax increases should be levied only as a last resort. A tax increase particularly impacts those who can least afford it — the people who every month are challenged with staying in their homes, keeping food on their tables and paying for critical medications. Small businesses struggling to return to stable economic footing after the recession are impacted as well. An increase this year, when combined with property tax increases already approved for the County's parks and trails bond and the Salt Lake City School District, would hamper the ability of many small businesses to recover. Like every family and business, the city must live within its means. When times are good, we have more revenue to work with; when times are tough, we must reduce expenditures and struggle through.
Raising property taxes for the city's day-to-day business should be considered only with wide public involvement, through a process that looks carefully at all revenue options — and only when we feel we have exhausted every conceivable option to economize. Analysis and public input should not occur in a few days or weeks. I've proposed taking the next year to fully engage residents in thoughtful conversation and then chart a course that will serve our city for not just a few months or year, but for the foreseeable future. Raising taxes should not be a quick, band-aid approach. Our taxpayers have been generous and supportive of helping Salt Lake City reach its potential as a great American city. They supported a bond election raising property taxes to replace our crumbling Public Safety building in the middle of the Great Recession. But, rightfully, they expect to know what they will get with a tax increase. Paving a few more streets and fixing a few more sidewalks alone will not serve our city well.
This year's budget has been the most challenging in my six years in office. While the economy has improved, the combination of relatively flat revenues and uncontrollable cost increases for health care, retirement and fuel has led to an ongoing deficit environment. Our employees have borne part of the burden with furloughs, layoffs and increased contributions to health insurance while not receiving meaningful across-the-board salary increases.
I will veto a property tax increase if the City Council adopts one. I recognize this is a challenging year. Our budget team struggled as never before to balance a budget without an increase, but we accomplished the task. My recommended budget does not cut city services in a discernible way. City facilities and services will continue to function as they have the last few years. Employees will be challenged but will not take cuts in pay.
I hope the public will share their views about the budget with me and the Council. We have had almost no public input at our City Council meetings regarding the direction of our budget. Let's engage, analyze and make good decisions over the next year. Our residents and taxpayers deserve that consideration.
Ralph Becker is the mayor of Salt Lake City.