Although Salt Lake residents would face a slight property tax hike - about $4 on a $75,000 home - and a new $3-a-month, or $36-a-year storm drain fee in Mayor Palmer DePaulis' proposed 1991-92 budget, the mayor cannot really be blamed for the increases. They come as a result of changes imposed by federal and state laws.
The bottom line is an $87.2 million general fund budget that is nearly identical to this year's $86.3 million. Other outlays would drop by $3.5 million. These are mostly non-tax-supported operations, such as golf courses, etc.But even in a hold-the-line budget, new federal mandates, inflation, raises - such as an additional $500,000 for police salaries - and other higher costs must be added. As a result, cuts must be made and the budget squeezed to accommodate the additional expenses. It's like pouring water into an already-full container; some fluid must be removed to make room for the new liquid.
The pressure is made worse by the fact that the mayor's budget anticipates about $500,000 less revenue from utility franchise taxes. This is a result of a decline in some utility rates. The tax is based on a percentage of utility rates in the city.
To make up for higher costs, the mayor is proposing several steps. The one that undoubtedly will be felt the most severely is the new $3-a-month storm drain fee on all city residents and businesses. The fee is necessary to prepare for new federal rules requiring cities to clean the water that runs through streets after a storm.
The minuscule property take hike is a result of the new tax formula adopted by the Legislature to make up for losses faced when the courts threw out the taxing system as applied to major businesses.
Spending cuts will be necessary. DePaulis is asking for a reduction in the snow removal budget, meaning that the minimum time to clean snow down to bare pavement would be lengthened from 24 hours to 36 hours.
There will be 18 fewer school crossing guards and guards would be paid by the hour instead of a flat daily rate, for a savings of $200,000. The mayor said the 18 sites that would not have guards are used by few children and pose little risk of accident. But it is an emotional issue fraught with political risk, at least for the City Council. DePaulis is not seeking re-election.
A number of fees would be raised in the DePaulis budget, including a 6.7 percent hike in sports programs partially subsidized by the Recreation Department; higher charges for impounded vehicles; a reservation fee for scheduling athletic and picnic facilities; higher animal boarding fees, and a higher fee for adult admission to the Tracy Aviary.
Clearly, the city is committed to increasingly larger user fees that come closer to covering the full cost of certain public services. That may not be popular, but in a community that continues to see a population decline and a limited tax base, it offers the best chance to provide services.
The DePaulis budget appears to be lean, even bare-boned, while managing to cover the necessities and hold the line on taxes. It would be unrealistic for city residents to expect anything more.