SALT LAKE CITY — Presenting his final budget to the Salt Lake County Council on Thursday, outgoing Mayor Peter Corroon painted a dire picture for county libraries, senior centers and law enforcement and asked the council to support a 17.5 percent property tax increase.
The tax increase would cost the average homeowner $64 a year, Corroon said, and would raise $30.9 million for the county.
If passed by the council, the increase would appear on tax bills beginning in November 2013. It would be the county's first property tax increase since 2000.
Without the tax increase, Corroon said the county will be faced with major layoffs, the closure of facilities and a district attorney's office that has to pick and choose which criminals to prosecute.
"As difficult as it is, when it's time to raise taxes, it's time to raise taxes," he said, "and that time has come. This is the best way to keep our county government stable and operational."
Ben McAdams, who was elected as Corroon's successor Tuesday, said he saw the proposed budget for the first time Thursday.
"Anytime we're looking at a tax increase, the first place we need to look is at efficiencies and cuts," McAdams said. "Mayor Corroon, in his budget proposal, detailed some of the cuts that would be required to balance the budget, and he and the other elected officials determined that those cuts were too deep."
Darren Casper, Corroon's chief financial officer, presented a detailed breakdown of the budget to the County Council on Thursday.
Without the tax increase, Casper said the county would be faced with eliminating 319 full-time jobs and closing the Oxbow Jail, five recreation centers, four senior centers and two libraries.
Though sales tax revenue has started to rebound from recession-era levels, that amounts to just 12.7 percent of the county's total revenue and is insufficient to meet increased needs, he said.
"That is why you can't rely on sales tax to bail you out of this recession," Casper said.
McAdams said he has questions about the budget, "and I'll be asking those questions and evaluating the budget as we move forward."
The mayor-elect also said he wants to be "respectful and sensitive to the mayor and current council as they execute their duties as elected officials," noting that he doesn't take office until January.
Services that would be paid for with the additional revenue include $8.5 million in deferred capital maintenance and just under $7 million to restore employee salaries and benefits that were cut during the recession, Corroon said.
The mayor described the proposed budget as sensible and sustainable, and said the tax increase, combined with rebounding sales tax revenue, would put the county in a position to meet the growing demand for services.
Since 2001, the population in Salt Lake County has grown by 140,000, Corroon said.
"Needs are always infinite, and the resources are always finite," he said. "For the last four years, matching taxpayer dollars with (residents') needs has been a challenge. The challenge is even greater this year."
County Council Chairman David Wilde said he was not shocked by Corroon's request for a tax increase. He said it has been apparent for a number of years that the county's financial demands were outpacing its revenue.
"Our budget is getting tighter and tighter," said Wilde, a Republican. "That doesn't mean I'm on board right now (with a tax increase), but it's something I am willing to consider."
Councilman Jim Bradley, a Democrat, said Corroon has a proven history of careful management when it comes to budgetary issues. Bradley said he appreciated the clarity and candor with which the mayor and his staff presented the budget and the issues facing the county's finances.
"(Corroon) made a very compelling argument," he said, "and what he has behind him is eight years of credibility."
Bradley said he doesn't anticipate the tax increase becoming a partisan issue. While it's likely some adjustments will be made, the council is ultimately united in wanting to put the county on secure financial footing, he said.
"I know that we'll have nine people who want to solve the problem," Bradley said.
Wilde said council members are still in the early stages of discussing what options are available to them. An opportunity for public comment will be held before any final decisions are made, he said.
Contributing: Jared Page