Salt Lake residents want more police and fire protection - not less, about 15 residents proclaimed loudly to the City Council during a public hearing Tuesday night on Mayor Palmer DePaulis' proposed $80.3 million general-fund budget.
The mayor's proposal is 1.5 percent less than last year's adopted city budget, and is the first in six years not to recommend tax or fee increases. The council will adopt the city's budget June 9.Speakers at the hearing said the most unpopular budget cut is the mayor's recommended closure of Fire Station 10 on Foothill Drive. Other complaints focused on reductions to the city's police force and eliminating the department's crime-analysis and crime-prevention units. A few residents argued to abolish the $4 monthly garbage fee levied by the city last year.
While Emigration Canyon hasn't been annexed into the city, its residents depend on the city's fire protection. To close the station would be irresponsible to the lives and safety of canyon residents and would threaten the city's watershed, said Joe Sargent, 1792 Emigration Canyon Road.
"I think it is tyranny by government that our lives and homes will be traded for historic buildings and art collections," Sargent said.
Lorna Matheson said 13 elementary schools are served by the station, and Steve Alder said closing it would increase residents' fire-insurance premiums by an average of 25 percent.
Luke Ong, who lives near Fire Station 10, said a plan to close the station July 1 will prompt voters to support the tax-limitation movement. "They would vote for tax limitation just to get a signal to you."
City finance officials say tax limitation could mean cutting as much as $12 million from the city's budget.
DePaulis, who called for 3 percent cuts from all city departments, in addition recommended closing one of two east-side fire stations, while a new, consolidated station is being built. He said police, fire and public works are the city's largest departments, and cuts have to be made there to save substantial amounts of money.
If the mayor's budget is adopted, the city would turn off midblock street lights, and city employees wouldn't see either cost-of-living or merit raises this year.
Councilwoman Roselyn Kirk, who represents the east-side neighborhoods in District 6, has been strongly opposed to the station closure until after the new station is constructed. Station 10, which Fire Chief Pete Pederson says receives the fewest emergency calls annually, was closed intermittently last summer because of the shortage of firefighting crews. Neighborhood residents were incensed because they weren't informed about the closures.
Reductions to the police force are hurting all city residents, by undermining the morale of police officers and hurting future economic development, said Dave Jones, 545 S. 11th East. A high crime rate will drive businesses and homeowners to the suburbs or out of state. "Will a city plagued by skyrocketing crime be an attractive place to locate a business? Obviously not."
Both police and fire union officials spoke at the hearing. "Police strength in this city has dropped into the danger zone," said Eldon Tanner, president of the Salt Lake Police Association. The lack of priority city bosses attribute to the police department has caused a burst of retirement.
"Today, living in Salt Lake City is like flying an old Boeing 737. Either one may blow up without warning. And the future looks no better," he said.
Charlie Quick, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters, attacked DePaulis personally, saying his budget proposal is irresponsible and unprincipled, because it stripped merit raises guaranteed to employees through contract negotiations.
He said the people who fight fires are more important than any of the vehicles or equipment the department can buy. "When we forget about them, there's a real difficult problem with our priorities." In tight budget times, it is more important to keep already established service levels than to build a new station.
Quick urged the council to restore some of the mayor's recommended cuts. "We would recommend strongly that you continue the work you have already done to restore programs that the mayor frivolously cut."
Resident Jane Stromquist urged that the garbage fee be abolished, because bad economic times are "open season on the poor."
And, she lectured the council, "I think you ought to get your minds off yourselves." Stomquist said the part-time council members don't need to travel or receive pay raises and fringe benefits.