Salt Lake City Council considers tax hike to support suffering infrastructure

Published: Tuesday, June 4 2013 10:25 p.m. MDT

Council members took a series of straw polls as they went through recommendations for maintaining the city's vehicles, public facilities, pedestrian infrastructure, parks, traffic signals and roads. Their initial wish list brought the bottom line to $19.5 million above Mayor Ralph Becker's recommended budget.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — There are still weeks of work ahead as the Salt Lake City Council moves line by line through the proposed 2013-14 budget, but one thing is clear: A tax hike is likely necessary if the city hopes to repair its neglected infrastructure.

Council members took a series of straw polls as they went through recommendations for maintaining the city's vehicles, public facilities, pedestrian infrastructure, parks, traffic signals and roads. Their initial wish list brought the bottom line to $19.5 million above Mayor Ralph Becker's recommended budget.

That hypothetical figure was revisited following Tuesday's formal meeting, as council members lamented the growing need to treat the city's untended wounds while worrying about the burden a property tax increase would place on residents and business owners.

In the end, council members took a step back, each suggesting how much of an increase — if any — they believe would be palatable to taxpayers. For the next week, they will consider a $6 million to $8 million property tax hike, while city officials prepare breakdowns of what could be accomplished with the additional funds.

Stan Penfold and Carlton Christensen opposed the potential increase in a straw poll vote.

As the clock ticked toward 10 p.m., Councilman Charlie Luke worried the city's infrastructure needs are so great that no single source of funds will be able to support needed improvements in the coming years. Legislative action and voter-approved bonds will need to be considered, in addition to the proposed tax hike, he said.

Discussion about a possible property tax increase will continue throughout June, and any proposal will be presented in a truth-in-taxation hearing in August.

With a tax increase possibly on the horizon, the council voted to put off a market adjustment to increase their salaries, freeing up $19,600. Despite initially supporting the increase, Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said now is not the time.

Needed road rehabilitation requires the greatest attention, according to the council. The mayor's current budget allows for only about 5 miles of asphalt overlay in the next year, while the "optimum" scenario presented to the council reached as far as 245 miles.

Last year, 5 miles of asphalt overlay was completed, on par with the mileage that has been covered annually since 2007.

A spokesman for the city's streets division told the council that because "cheap treatments" were bypassed during recession years, roads deteriorated faster and they now require more expensive remediation.

Eventually, the streets division hopes to move toward concrete roadways, rather than petroleum-based streets, a move Councilman Soren Simonsen said must be made over the next decade as petroleum costs continue to rise. Concrete roads require less maintenance and have greater longevity, city officials said.

Tuesday marked the final scheduled public hearing on the proposed budget, but no one came forward to speak. Additional public hearings could be scheduled as debate continues.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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