By sticking fast to a "no tax increase" pledge, Mayor Palmer DePaulis has left very little wiggle room in the fiscal 1990 budget released to the Salt Lake City Council this week.
That may sit well with taxpayers, but it certainly won't please police, firefighters and other city employees who are demanding a more substantial pay raise than the mayor is offering.The budget has $82.2 million in the general fund, fed by a 3.19 percent increase in revenue over last year. An improving economy gave the city a $1.6 million increase in sales tax money. But that was partially offset by a $634,000 drop in franchise taxes and no gain in property taxes. A boost in water fees helps make up the higher budget.
To make ends meet, the budget proposes eliminating the $300,000 neighborhood cleanup program, a popular trash removal project that allowed residents to dispose of large refuse items once a year. The cleanup program has become a tradition and its loss may cause some protest.
But the biggest potential clash by far involves pay raises for city employees, who have gone several years without cost-of-living or merit increases. Even the relatively modest inflation of recent years has significantly eroded their pay.
The DePaulis budget offers a 2 percent cost-of-living pay hike and 2.75 percent merit boosts. Employee unions say they want more than 4 percent in cost-of-living raises and some changes in merit pay packages.
DePaulis says the city's offer is the most it can afford. Negotiations - which never really got started - have broken down, and angry union members are muttering about unspecified "job actions," although strikes as such are forbidden by law.
While the mayor has criticized the employee unions for walking away from the negotiating table while almost two months remain before a new fiscal year begins, the budget seems to indicate that pay raises are no longer an open issue. The mayor has indicated he can't budge from the existing pay offer. If that's the case, how can he criticize the unions for not negotiating?
How to resolve these differences is now up to the City Council. A budget decision must be made by June 15 in order to prepare for the 1990 fiscal year that starts July 1. Council members have indicated they will take a serious look at employee salary issues and loss of the neighborhood cleanup program.
Whether a "serious look" can be translated into finding the money to change the mayor's budget proposals is another matter. The council would have to slash other programs by substantial amounts.
DePaulis says that it's always possible that the council could make budget cuts in some areas and divert the funds to additional raises. An attempt to do that last year resulted in a DePaulis veto, but he might steer clear of such action this time around.
Yet the prospects are that there will be a great many unhappy people when the final city budget is adopted in mid-June.