Despite the defeat of Utah's tax limiting initiatives at the ballot box Tuesday, Salt Lake County commissioners are pledging no hikes in county property taxes for 1989.
Commissioners this week are beginning preliminary work on next year's budget. And while the revenue and expenditure projections won't take firm shape until later this month, they agree an increase in county taxes has been all but ruled out."We don't actually set tax rates until the middle of next year, but I think the public has told us we're getting all the tax revenue we're going to get," said commission chairman Bart Barker. "If we have additional needs we're just going to have to take care of them the best we can."
It's likely the county indeed will have additional budget needs in 1989. Two major proj-ects, a 350-bed minimum security jail for misdemeanor offenders and an 18,500-seat arena to house the Utah Jazz, are being studied.
Both facilities are needed - the arena to keep the Jazz financially viable in the wake of a new NBA players contract which forces salaries up, and the misdemeanor "honor farm" to relieve overcrowding at the downtown jail.
If the county decides to develop either or both of the facilities, it must move quickly - probably starting early next year. But commissioners have already pledged there will be no tax hikes to build a new arena, and they say the same about the misdemeanor jail.
County department managers have turned in 1989 budget requests totaling nearly $227 million. That's somewhat less than the 1988 adopted budget of about $231 million.
On the revenue side, 1989 projections are still a little fuzzy at this point. But budget officials say they'll have a better picture when they get last month's complete figures.
"It's easier to do next year's projections based on 10 months of this year's data than on nine months," said county budget director Nelson Williams. "But we look like we'll be right on track with our five-year budget plan. I think we'll need only some modest cuts in the submitted budget requests."
During a Tuesday budget session, the three commissioners stood and applauded department managers for holding the line on next year's budget requests. But while no one mentioned Sheriff N.D. "Pete" Hayward by name, Barker clearly implied the praise was not intended for all county officials.
Hayward submitted a 1989 request of about $28.5 million for his jail, patrol and administration budgets, an increase of about $2.5 million, or 10 percent, over his 1988 budget total of about $26 million.
Most other elected officials and department managers submitted requests very close to, and in some cases less than, their 1988 budget totals. Commissioners and Hayward appear to be heading for another of their annual, almost legendary and sometimes raucous budget battles.
Another budget work session was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. But after that commissioners aren't scheduled to hold any more budget workshops until Nov. 28. The county budget office will use that time to revise and refine the 1989 projections.
Formal adoption of next year's budget is scheduled for Dec. 15. A public hearing on the budget proposal is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 9 in the commission chambers at the county government center, 2001 S. State. The budget document will be available at the commission office for examination before the hearing beginning at 8 a.m. Dec. 5.