A rocky road: Funding Salt Lake street repairs after a recession

Published: Saturday, June 22 2013 3:20 p.m. MDT

Barry Jacobsen picks up construction cones off 400 South in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 21, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It all started with a pothole.

Bill Davis traveled 1300 South regularly for work, and as the snow and ice of a bitter winter melted, he noticed more and more hazards emerging. But he was distracted that night in March, and as he turned onto the pock-marked road from 300 West, he couldn't see the large holes he usually swerved to avoid.

"I turned left onto 1300 South, and it was like, 'wham!'" Davis said. "I was like, "Oh geez, that's right, I forgot about this.' … But the problem was it was dark enough you couldn't see them."

Davis continued on his way, but could tell his car had taken a damaging hit. The next morning, a mechanic discovered the tire was flat, the wheel cover had popped loose, the rim was bent and the car's suspension had been jarred free.

In the end, repairs cost Davis about $500, making a property tax passed this week by the Salt Lake City Council in the name of improving the city's infrastructure sound like a much more affordable solution, he told Councilwoman Jill Remington Love.

"It needed to happen," said Davis, whose experience became a prime example for council members lobbying for the tax hike. "If (the city) doesn't provide (services), all you're doing is pushing the cost of dealing with that need down to the citizen."

Davis recently threw his hat in the ring against Ernest Lloyd Cox and Erin Mendenhall, who are running for the District Five seat that Love is vacating.

Pain felt by all

As Salt Lake City waded through the depths of the recent recession, it faced the same challenge as population centers across the country: how to pay for basic services despite declining revenue.

"We're no different than every other city and every state in this country," Mayor Ralph Becker said. "If you look at the backlog of infrastructure needs in Salt Lake City compared to anyone else, we're probably in a lot better shape than most other communities."

Still, it's not a long-term solution, Becker admits.

Similar pains were felt across Salt Lake County. Outgoing county Mayor Peter Corroon spent his final weeks in office championing a 16.2 percent tax increase, the first the county had seen in more than a decade, which passed the County Council in December. About $8.1 million of that increase was dedicated to long neglected repairs for county facilities.

Of the many facilities owned and operated by Salt Lake County — 102 parks, 21 rec centers, 19 swimming pools, seven health centers, three ice centers and three fine arts centers — several are in need of roof work, furnace updates or other repairs, said county communications director Alyson Heyrend.

Among those facilities first in line to benefit from the increase is a replacement of the structurally unsound Fleet Service Facility, repairs to the public health building and renovation at the Capitol Theatre.

More with less

Becker asserted this week that despite limited resources, Salt Lake City has done better than most at maintaining basic services, taking advantage of low construction costs and slowly but steadily increasing the amount of real dollars dedicated to capital improvement projects.

The budget Becker recommended for the next fiscal year stayed within the 7 percent range for capital projects, about the same it has been since 2005. But with marginal revenue increases, that 7 percent came to be $14,066,691 for capital improvement projects, an increase of nearly $350,000 compared to the previous year.

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