Salt Lake County commissioners have asked top administrators to prioritize their division budgets and recommend where spending cuts might be made next year should three Tax Limitation Initiatives win voter approval in November.
The county would stand to lose more than $30 million, or nearly half its property tax revenue, if the initiatives pass, a state tax commissioner said."If these initiatives pass, within days we will have to make decisions on next year's budget," Commission Chairman Bart Barker told 75 county managers meeting Monday to hear information on the initiatives.
"Our budget process starts months before the election. But if we wait to see how the vote turns out before we prepare, we would be irresponsible. If they pass, we must be seriously prepared to implement the voters' decision."
Utah Tax Commission Chairman Roger Tew told the officials that, based on 1986 tax figures, the county would have its revenue cut by $30 million if the initiatives are approved. Figures for 1987, due for release in a few weeks, will likely show the actual revenue loss to be higher, he said.
Nelson Williams, director of the county's Management and Budget Division, said passage of the measures would affect some county programs and services more than others. Those services that depend more heavily on property tax revenues for funding would be the hardest hit.
Countywide tax levies, those that pay for services provided to all of Salt Lake County, would be reduced 51 percent, from $46.3 million to $22.4 million, Williams said. Funding for municipal services provided by the county to unincorporated areas would drop from $13 million to $8 million.
Revenues earmarked to fund health services would be cut in half, while revenue to pay for construction and operation of county libraries would decrease from $7.8 million to $4.7 million, he said.
Other potential effects of the initiatives include the county's reduced ability to attract federal grants because it would have fewer of the local dollars that are required to match the federal funding. The county's credit rating could also suffer, Williams said.
Barker said the most vital county services - public safety, law enforcement and some health programs - will take funding priority should passage of the initiatives make budget cuts necessary.
But following the loss in recent years of $10 million in federal revenue sharing money, and the budget cuts that loss made necessary, there aren't many low priorities left from which to cut, Barker said.
"I think it's safe to say that everyone would have to take some cuts," he said. "There would be a lot of pain."
Barker issued a stern warning to administrators, telling them not to engage in what he called scare tactics. But he also said the county must make it clear to voters what services are likely to be affected, and how deeply, if the initiatives pass.
"I want you to recommend the cuts you would really make, the lowest priorities, the least impact to the public. We want to see doable cuts," he said. "If we give the public the facts and they decide based on the information that's what they want, then it's our job to implement it."
The county will not tell employees how to vote on the initiatives, nor will it discourage employees on either side of the issue from expressing their opinions, Barker said.