Salt Lake City approves 13.8 percent tax hike despite mayor's threat to veto

Published: Tuesday, June 18 2013 9:19 p.m. MDT

The Salt Lake City Council forged ahead in adopting amendments to next year's budget despite the mayor's threat to veto, and pushed a proposed property tax increase to $8 million.

Steve Greenwood

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Council adopted a budget that includes a 13.8 percent increase and has enough support to survive a threatened veto by Mayor Ralph Becker.

The proposed tax grew from $7 million to $8 million before it was adopted in a 5-2 vote Tuesday and represents an increase of $54.34 annually for the average $200,000 home, or $494 for a $1 million business.

Council members said they were motivated to increase the tax in order to dedicate more money to long neglected capital improvement projects.

"Our infrastructure is aging," Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said. "In order to head off serious future infrastructure problems, serious infrastructure maintenance, we've got to get going … I think we appreciate that waiting any longer is more expensive than continuing now."

Of the $8 million in increased revenue, the council will allot $5 million to fund core services and improve crumbling roads. Prioritizing those projects will take place in a meeting scheduled July 9.

Councilmen Stan Penfold and Carlton Christensen maintained their opposition to the proposed tax increase Tuesday and voted against the budget. Despite their objections, the proposal advanced with five supporting votes, which is enough to override a veto from Becker.

Penfold said he is not opposed to "well-considered" tax increases and likely represents the most liberal district in the state, but he was disappointed by the council's willingness to spend taxpayers' money.

"I'm disappointed that what I've experienced as a very thoughtful and historically wise council is so supportive of spending the public's money with very little of the public engaged in this process," Penfold said, recalling the extensive effort that went into repaving Sunnyside Avenue and publicizing the Sugar House streetcar debate.

"In a matter of weeks, with really no meaningful public engagement that I can see, we are raising people's taxes," he said.

Four public hearings were offered for those wishing to weigh in on the proposed budget, but no one came forward to comment until last week.

Becker would not comment directly following the vote but previously asserted his disapproval of any tax hike in an editorial published June 9 in the Deseret News. He is not expected to waste any time in vetoing the increase and the council tentatively scheduled a meeting for Friday morning to respond.

"This won't take more than a couple of days," said David Everitt, Becker's chief of staff. "Nobody is interested in any sort of parliamentary shenanigans on this."

Becker had proposed dedicating a year to public discussion before coming forward with any tax hike.

Along with the budget comes another concern, Everitt said. Woven through the proposal passed by the council Tuesday are a series of contingencies, laying down conditions and stipulations that must be met before money is spent. Everitt called the contingencies an example of council members flexing their muscles at the cost of expediency.

"From our perspective, it actually creates more bureaucracy," Everitt said. "It slows down our ability to do the work that the council and the mayor both have agreed is important work."

An example of a contingency passed Tuesday was a requirement tied to hiring a transportation deputy director. First, the administration must investigate the possibility of funding new bus shelters by selling advertising on them, according to the council.

"It's gratuitous, frankly," Everitt said, acknowledging that the council's actions appear to be legal.

Also included in the council's list of contingencies were requirements that funding be restored to police stations and a fire department in order to train and hire new officers and man fire crews.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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