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After tax increase, SL City Council has decisions to make

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 8:48 a.m. MDT

AnnMarie Chaplin plays in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) AnnMarie Chaplin plays in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the Salt Lake City Council has approved a 13.8 percent hike in property taxes, it faces an even bigger question.

How will the $8 million in taxpayer dollars be spent?

While $3 million of the influx will be used to top off the city's general fund, the bulk of the increase that passed the City Council and side-stepped Mayor Ralph Becker's veto last month was pushed in the name of tackling growing infrastructure concerns before they become more costly.

For the remaining $5 million, the council is considering a vast list of potential projects addressing four major areas: streets, parks and open space, transportation and city facilities. Each of those four concerns have been narrowed to two "sub themes," and council members have until September to hammer out a list of projects that fit the bill.

Alyia Carlson Carlson floats in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Alyia Carlson Carlson floats in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Addressing deferred maintenance ranks high in all four categories, according to a July 9 straw poll vote, but which projects will eventually be funded is still up for weeks of debate, LaMalfa says.

City staff members have assembled a possible scenario for spending the cash. Mayor Becker's office has too. Council member Carlton Christensen has submitted his own proposal, and Council Chair Kyle LaMalfa said he is considering teaming up with colleague Charlie Luke to prepare another option.

"So we've gone from this big, broad view of 'we have a problem,' to 'we should spend the money in these general areas,'" LaMalfa said. "The next step is a scenario to work from that actually has the projects named."

Once the tax increase level is finalized at the Truth in Taxation hearing Aug.15, the council will likely select one of the proposed scenarios as a starting point for the plan in their Aug. 20 meeting, LaMalfa said. That list will then be fine tuned and the city's budget finalized.

Lev Wickelson plays with his aunt Sarah Wilson in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Lev Wickelson plays with his aunt Sarah Wilson in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

The proposals draw from the city's 10-year Capital Facilities Plan, 2014 Capital Project List and various master plans, as well as council priority lists and one-year action plans, according to written briefing.

But this isn't a shopping spree. The proposals all focus on addressing glaring needs or remedying existing concerns before they become larger problems, LaMalfa said.

"The problem we identified was deferred maintenance, and although its tempting to want to add new items to our districts, it has really been disciplined on the part of council members to stick with the plan to repair what we have," LaMalfa said. "The whole point of this is catching up."

Possible projects include the following:

Lev Wickelson plays with his aunt Sarah Wilson in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Lev Wickelson plays with his aunt Sarah Wilson in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

• Streets: When it comes to street repairs, the council placed priority on maximizing the life of viable streets and focusing on major thoroughfares. Possible projects include reconstructions on 1700 South, 1300 South and Emery Street, as well as residential sidewalk repairs and other street overlays, according to a staff report.

"I think the thing that struck me the most about our situation was roads," LaMalfa said, pointing out that with the amount of lane mileage in the city, an estimated 60 miles of road should be reconstructed every year. The past few years, just over a mile has been repaired annually.

"What I think we're going to boost is these overlays … if you do that at regular intervals you can get the road to last another 10 years, and it's way way cheaper than reconstructing the whole thing," he said.

Harper Hamatake plays in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Harper Hamatake plays in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

• Parks and cemeteries: Aging or in-need facilities such as cemetery and park restrooms, Liberty Park pool, Jordan Park baseball fields and public pavilions are candidates for funding.

City Council priorities for parks and open space are focused on deferred maintenance needs and repairing or replacing weakened infrastructure.

• Transportation: Other transportation projects cover auto, pedestrian and bicycle lanes, as well as going after deferred maintenance. Examples include striping the paint for fading bike lanes, upgrading aged traffic signals and re-doing pedestrian crossings.

• Building maintenance: One glaring facilities need is obvious right outside the historic City and County Building, LaMalfa said. The historic stone on the buildings outer walls was never treated and weatherproofed, and now it's breaking down. That's why deferred maintenance and historic preservation projects are a priority on the council's massive to-do list.

Zion Hamatake plays in the pool at Liberty Park with his grandmother Jan Hamatake in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Zion Hamatake plays in the pool at Liberty Park with his grandmother Jan Hamatake in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

• Other projects: Other potential facilities projects such as repairing the Memory Grove retaining wall, updating the HVAC and energy systems at the justice courts, and refinishing the driveway and parking lot at the Avenues fire station are being considered.

Council members have heard a steady stream of public comment since the tax increase was passed, LaMalfa said, whether through email, phone calls or residents stopping them in the grocery store. He is calling on residents to ensure the council's potential project wish lists are complete.

"What we're looking for from people are areas that we may have overlooked that need repairs and maintenance," he said.

While some of that has been opposition to the council's decision, LaMalfa sees no other option for addressing the city's many needs.

Lev Wickelson plays with his aunt Sarah Wilson in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Lev Wickelson plays with his aunt Sarah Wilson in the pool at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"We have received both positive and negative feedback about increasing taxes. The city doesn't speak with one voice on this issue," he said. "For those who think we don't need a tax increase to pay for repairs and maintenance, the best kind of input would be, well, should we cut police and fire? Should we cut parks? Should we cut snowplows? What other part of the city should we cut back on in order to avoid huge expenses in the future from deteriorating maintenance?"

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