SALT LAKE CITY — Facing what city staff describes as a nearly $16 million annual gap to fulfill long-term needs for Salt Lake City — including streets, deferred maintenance and police — officials know they need to find the money somewhere.
Last month, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski's proposed a way to fill that gap: using a sales tax increase option linked to the state prison relocation and seeking a voter-approved bond.
Tuesday, the council informally voted to direct staff to begin planning a process to gauge whether the public would be open to those two tax increases.
"Once we move forward, we may not decide to implement either," noted Councilman Charlie Luke. "But if there is a chance we're going to do it, having staff get everything in order now is crucial."
Councilwoman Amy Fowler agreed, noting the city is on a time crunch if it were to use the sales tax option by next fiscal year or put the bond on this year's ballot.
Staff said it would take four to six months before the city could start receiving added sales tax from an increase. As for a bond issue, the council would need to decide to put it on the ballot by late August.
"We should at least get this party started," Fowler said.
Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall described the decision as "the first step toward our serious consideration" of activating the sales tax option and putting an up-to $87 million bond on the ballot.
"There is already complete clarity that neither option adequately addresses any of the needs," Mendenhall said. "We need both tools and more, but those are the tools we're considering."
In addition to shrinking a $16 million "structural gap" between the city's expenditures and ongoing revenue to a more "normal" amount, Mendenhall said she's hoping to solve other priorities, including transit, streets, public safety and affordable housing.
The sales tax option allows the city that ended up with the prison to increase its sales tax up to 0.5 percent, or 5 cents for every $10 spent. It would generate an estimated $35 million annually for the city, according to city staff.
If approved by voters, an $87 million bond would cost roughly $5 in additional property taxes per household per year.
While staff is planning the public process over the next several weeks, council members will be working on trying to narrow down what the funds will be used for, Mendenhall said.
The process may include public hearings, community council meetings, open houses or online surveys, Councilman Derek Kitchen said.
"We want to reach as deep as possible for input from our residents as we can," Kitchen said.
Tuesday's 6-0 vote came when vocal sales tax opponent Councilman James Rogers was out of town.
Rogers, who represents the city's west side, has said he'd only be in favor of using the sales tax option if it would be solely used to the benefit of the city's west side, arguing that's the community that will be most impacted by the new state prison'.11 comments on this story
But Rogers is in the minority, as other city officials and the mayor have argued the entire city will be impacted by prison's relocation.
"It's the first of many steps in this process," Rogers told the Deseret News in a text later Tuesday. "My hope is that all my colleagues see (the sales tax option) and understand it for what it is and what was meant to be used for: mitigating the impact on the residents of the west side. For the first time ever, we have the opportunity to bridge the opportunity index from the east side to the west side."