Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis released a slightly expanded $82.2 million general-fund budget Tuesday, saying that in a year of only small revenue growth, the city's fiscal blueprint is an act of "preservation."
The mayor's budget, fueled by a 3.19 percent increase in revenue over last year's $79 million budget, calls for no tax increase but recommends a net 4 percent increase in water rates, costing homeowners an average of $7 yearly.A 2 percent cost-of-living increase and a 2 to 2.75 percent merit raise for city employees - already declared too small by the city's three unions, all of whom have left the bargaining table - is included in the mayor's package.
And under the budget, which must be passed by the City Council by June 15, the annual neighborhood cleanup program would be eliminated to save roughly $300,000 and funding for urban forestry would be increased 24 percent.
Council Chairman W.M. "Willie" Stoler identified the mayor's salary package and the elimination of the trash-pickup program as areas of possible modification by the council.
"The trash-pickup program has literally become a tradition," Stoler said and added that "taking care of employees" will be high on the list of council priorities.
Last year, the mayor vetoed a council budget implementing across-the-board cuts to fund merit raises for employees. This year, DePaulis has said money doesn't exist to enlarge salary offers.
Speaking inside City Council chambers in the City-County Building - preserved by a nearly complete renovation effort - DePaulis said, "Tonight's budget message is also a message, in a sense, about preservation."
DePaulis told a chamber packed with spectators and bedecked with new chandeliers that thousands this weekend celebrated the reopening of the City-County Building as "the best of our past."
"Tonight, we begin discussing how to maintain the best of our present," he said.
A projected $1.6 million increase over last year in sales tax revenue countered by a $634,000 drop in franchise tax and flat property tax revenues have left the city only "holding steady," DePaulis said.
"But I believe things are starting to turn around," DePaulis said. "The movement is slight, but it is the first step toward a sounder economic base."
Slight improvement has enabled the city to offer salary increases - the first merit increase in a year and the first COLA in three, DePaulis said. Currently, the city's police, fire and blue-collar and clerk unions have rejected the offers.
Last year, the police department lost its crime-analysis unit and hiring new recruits was delayed under budget constraints, but no cuts would be made this year.
"My emphasis will be on restoring public safety programs," DePaulis said.
The net 4 percent increase in water rates results from a 10 percent increase in water charges and a 6 percent decrease in sewer rates. The $54,000 raised annually would finance replacement of aging water lines.
The neighborhood cleanup program, which permitted city residents to dispose of large refuse items once a year, would be eliminated from the city's public work funds, under the mayor's budget.
A $2.7 million gouge would be taken from the city's capital-improvement program - normally funded at $5 million - to pay off the $30 million bond bought to fund renovation of the City-County Building, under DePaulis' budget.
Capital improvements include making long-term repairs on streets, public buildings and other infrastructure.
"While the benefit of this investment (the City-County Building) will be felt for generations to come, it nonetheless significantly reduces funding for other important projects," DePaulis said.
A 24 percent, or $100,000, boost in the urban forestry program would go toward rehabilitating half the city's nearly 50,000 trees, under the budget. "Currently, we are removing more trees than we can replace," DePaulis said.
Among DePaulis' proposals:
- No tax increase.
- Two percent COLA, 2 to 2.75 percent merit increase for city employees.
- Elimination of annual neighborhood cleanup program saving $300,000.
- Net 4 percent water rate increase costing average homeowner $7 yearly.
- Increase of $100,000 in the city's urban forestry program for pruning and spraying.
- Utah Economic Development Corp. total $128,000, up from $24 last year.
- Creation of fees for 5 1/2 days a week at Tracy Aviary to raise $133,000.
- Modification of the city's concrete-replacement program calling for residents to pay material cost of sidewalk replacement.