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Salt Lake City Mayor Becker vetoes property tax increase; City Council considers override

Published: Wednesday, June 19 2013 6:40 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker discusses his state of the city speech Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 in the Salt Lake City and County building. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker discusses his state of the city speech Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 in the Salt Lake City and County building. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Mayor Ralph Becker voiced concern for Salt Lake City's poorest residents Wednesday before vetoing the City Council's 2013-14 budget and its accompanying 13.8 percent tax increase.

"I feel it is the wrong thing to do for our … taxpayers and our community at large to impose a cost that disproportionately affects the people who can afford it least," Becker said, emphasizing the plight of residents struggling with housing, food and medical costs on a fixed income. "I don't want to see those people pushed out of their homes."

In his six years in office, this is Becker's second veto and his first targeting a budget.

But if no one on the City Council waivers, the 5-2 majority that passed the budget and tax increase Tuesday afternoon has the power to override Becker's veto. The council is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Friday to consider the override, which Chairman Kyle LaMalfa said is likely to succeed.

"We are convinced we're on the right track," LaMalfa said. "We know we're behind on our infrastructure needs, and the time is now to move forward and get caught up."

That applies to low-income families who he worries would face even larger tax increases in the future if remediation doesn't begin immediately. In the meantime, LaMalfa said, he believes the proposed tax hike is manageable. It will cost $54.34 annually for the average $200,000 home, or $67.93 for a $250,000 household.

The tax increase also represents about $494 annually for a $1 million business, a cost that Becker says substantially increases the burden on already beleaguered local business owners.

There are alternatives to a tax increase, the mayor said Wednesday, mentioning proposed state and federal legislation such as the Marketplace Fairness Act, which is expected to be decided before the next fiscal year. If passed, Becker estimates it could bring thousands of dollars worth of sales tax from online purchases to Salt Lake City.

Additionally, the city could continue looking for opportunities to increase efficiency and tighten the belt on its day-to-day operations, Becker said. He expressed confidence that although operating at current levels is not sustainable in the long run, the city could continue on the same track for one more year while other options are considered.

LaMalfa disagreed, saying the council is unwilling to sit on the sidelines and wait for additional revenue that may never come. He and other council members were also concerned that the mayor's proposed budget would not provide for essential services, cutting positions for some police officers and firefighters. The proposed increase would restore those jobs.

The bulk of the council's $8 million tax increase is designated for capital improvement projects like maintaining neglected roads and parks. Without immediate action, the council worries the city will have no option except expensive replacement projects, rather than less-costly maintenance.

Becker said another reason behind the veto was the "minimal public input" that was available as the council considered the tax increase over the course of a few weeks. The mayor has lobbied for a yearlong public discussion of the city's options for increasing revenue and maintaining services.

"They come to us, if we give people time," Becker said. "People aren't short on ideas. … We always benefit, I think, when we engage the community and ask for their input."

LaMalfa urged residents to continue providing their input on the proposed increase online through the Open City Hall forum. The input will be considered until the Aug. 15 truth-in-taxation hearing. Public hearings addressing the budget were on the City Council's agenda in four meetings leading up to Tuesday's vote.

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