Member companies of the Salt Lake Better Business Bureau (BBB) will pay an average 4 percent higher dues this year, but in return those 1,600 firms and their customers will get more for their money.

Bureau President William D. Beadle told BBB directors gathered for the bureau's annual meeting Thursday that 1988 was a "mixed year" for the agency: an increase in operations and a drop in revenues, ending the year 1 percent "in the red."Beadle blamed an inadequate sales staff for the drop in revenues during '88 and vowed to beef it up this year to generate growth in new member companies. The new dues schedule approved by the board - based on the number of employees of member companies - puts the minimum annual dues at $150 and the maximum at $2,500.

"We are projecting very conservative revenues and very tight expenses" for 1989, said Beadle. It's not that he really expects income to be below last year's but he's planning for the worst in hopes of being able to bolster the bureau's reserve funds.

Even though funding was tight last year, the bureau's six full-time and one part-time staffer cinched up their belts and increased the BBB's volume of services to the Salt Lake market.

For example, said Beadle, the bureau handled more than 60,000 inquiries last year, up 6 percent from 1987. Complaints mediated were down slightly due to some changes in the bureau's AutoLine program. Also, Better Business Bureaus nationwide have agreed to forward complaints on mail order buying to the city where the company selling the product or service is located.

Another area of growth for the BBB, said Beadle, is in arbitrations, up from 93 in 1987 to 140 in 1988. "That's like having that many more court hearings in a year, a very substantial increase," he said.

During the year, the BBB monitored 285 advertisements and conducted "shoppings" on 27, the most ever. A shopping involves a BBB staffer or volunteer going to a store to determine if a "sale" ad is accurate or if the store is employing "bait and switch" tactics.

The bureau distributed some 52,000 pieces of literature - concerning various companies, buying decisions, and products - during '88, up from 45,000 in '87.

Beadle said the bureau estimates it had an impact on some $170 million in buying decisions and complaints during the year. One inquiry from the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Budget concerned a Salt Lake company offering another firm a $30 million letter of credit that would be used to back a performance bond.

The local BBB made some inquiries and reported a negative response to the comptroller. The bureau had determined the issuing company did not have $30 million to back the letter of credit.

For 1989, Beadle said, the BBB will concentrate on providing expanded services to members - more communications and more outreach programs - than in the past. "And we are going to concentrate on higher quality service rather than simply more quantity," said Beadle. "We are going to do more investigations (and) more reports to the media on scams and schemes that consumers should watch out for."

Beadle described the Better Business Bureau as a community service organization that is funded by business but serves both business and the public. "We're dedicated to advocating self-regulation and raising the level of satisfaction of the consuming public with the free enterprise system.

"We have codes of conduct and standards and we tend to act as the nagging conscience of business and consumers as well. I'm talking about shoplifting, check kiting, the kinds of problems that raise prices for us all."