SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown and Mayor Jackie Biskupski requested 27 new cops — but they're getting 50.
And that could mean a tax increase is coming next year.
The Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to fund 50 new police officers, plus additional support staff in the crime lab and social work offices, in a nearly $5 million adjustment to this year's budget.
Last week, Brown was pleasantly caught off guard when Councilman Charlie Luke proposed the budget adjustment while reviewing Brown and Biskupski's request for 27 officers amid strain from Operation Rio Grande, the two-year, multi-agency effort to control the area around the troubled downtown homeless shelter.
Since Operation Rio Grande's August launch, surrounding Salt Lake City neighborhoods including Liberty Wells and Ballpark have complained of an increase in issues involving the homeless as well as crime and a lack of regular police presence as officers focus their efforts in the Rio Grande neighborhood.
"Neighborhood policing is extremely important to Salt Lake City residents," Luke said in an interview after the vote. "And with the increase almost doubling (the city's) daytime population each day, we owe it to both the neighborhoods and to our daily visitors to ensure they're safe as possible."
The officers and their equipment and vehicles will cost roughly an additional $4.8 million in this year's budget. An additional $109,000 will be used to fund about four months of pay for five new employees in the police department, including one new quality assurance manager, three crime lab technicians and one victim advocate.
Council members also expressed support for funding four more staffers — two crime intelligence analysts and two records clerks — next year, bringing annual cost to all nine new employees to about $526,000.
"This is such a great gift you are giving us," Brown told council members Tuesday, adding that when utilizing the officers, "we want to do it right."
The budget adjustment will be funded through the city's fund balance, or rainy day fund — though that caused some worry for at least one council member.
"I am very concerned about where our budget sits at this point," Councilman Andrew Johnston said, noting that the budget adjustment will leave just $2 million in the account that could be spent before the fund dips below its preferred balance for bonding.
However, staff assured the council that it leaves enough of a cushion that the city remains in a good financial position.
Johnston ultimately voted alongside other council members in favor of the budget adjustment.
Luke acknowledged the move leaves a larger discussion for next year about how to fund the ongoing positions — which will perhaps require some kind of tax increase to create an ongoing revenue stream.1 comment on this story
"That discussion will be held a lot during the coming months, especially as the mayor works on her budget recommendation," Luke said. "When it gets to the council, we'll figure out what we have to work with and where to go from there."
The mayor typically proposes a budget in May, while the council must approve the budget in June.
It's not clear what kind of tax increase the proposal would require. The City Council has the power to increase property taxes — but it also has the option to raise sales tax thanks to a state law passed in 2015 that allowed the city that ended up with the new Utah State Prison to increase its sales tax up to 0.5 percent.