Salt Lake City on 'last notch' of financial belt, mayor says
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — For five years, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has balanced rising costs and sinking revenues without raising taxes or cutting essential services, but he's not sure how much longer that can last.
"We're at that point where our fiscal belt can be tightened no more," Becker told the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday. "Barring a new source of revenues, we are at our last notch."
Further delay of maintenance and development expenditures will begin impacting the city's basic services and infrastructure, he fears.
The bottom line of the budget falls at roughly $213 million, up from last year's $206 million, city officials said.
In the coming weeks, Becker said he will call on the City Council and community to engage in a "yearlong discussion about the fun topic of our budget."
"Our existing revenue, it's quite clear, will not over time cover costs that in many instances are just beyond our control," he said.
The mayor's remarks previewed his proposed 2013-14 budget, with a full breakdown of the budget expected to be presented to the City Council on May 7. Becker reaffirmed that the proposal does not include a property tax increase.
The past year has seen declining revenue from fines and forfeitures by the criminal justice system, among others, alongside cost increases such as those in the city's retirement program.
Also a concern, a federal recovery grant that has supported employing firefighters has now run dry, dropping an additional $670,000 onto the city's tab. Grants supporting police employees still remain, but not indefinitely.
Becker calls the proposed budget "balanced and lean," focusing on efficiency, services and facilities, and plans and investments.
The city continues to minimize government and share resources, such as the new 911 dispatch bureau to handle emergency calls for both police and fire departments.
The bureau, which will be housed in the nearly complete Public Safety Building, will also begin handling calls for Sandy police and fire, reducing costs for both cities, Becker said.
The mayor affirmed that even through lean times, services and facilities have not been compromised. The proposed budget includes allowances for technology updates in city departments and safety upgrades for law enforcement and firefighting equipment.
Becker touted the new bike share program, Public Safety Building, airport TRAX line and Utah Performing Arts Center as tributes to the city's commitment to progress even during recession years.
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