SALT LAKE CITY — While one bill requiring Utah cities to help pay for homeless shelters makes its way through the Utah Legislature, it'll cross paths with another one that would also take city taxes to pay public safety forces.
Critics worry the pair of bills will double-charge cities for the same issue. But the difference between the two bills is where the money would go: one for the annual operations of homeless resource centers, and one to pay for police and firefighters to keep the facilities and areas around them safe.
SB235 — which passed favorably out of the Senate Business and Labor Committee on Thursday — would do the latter by collecting sales tax revenue from cities not hosting homeless shelters, either by capturing 1.75 percent of cities' annual tax revenue distribution or by collecting revenue from cities that impose a 0.015 percent sales tax.
The bill would allow cities to impose that new sales tax (excluding food) without a vote from the public, according to the bill.
SB235 is needed to help cities that are currently hosting or are slated to host homeless shelters — Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Midvale, Ogden and St. George — pay for "increased public safety issues" that come with homeless shelters, said bill sponsor Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City.
The bill would bring in about $5 million to be set aside in a "homeless shelter cities mitigation restricted account," from which cities hosting shelters could apply for grants to pay for police and fire resources.
South Salt Lake — the city chosen by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams to host a third, 300-bed homeless resource center to the outrage of its leaders and residents — has already drafted its request for $2.6 million in ongoing funds to pay for 12 new police officers and 12 additional paramedic firefighters so the area can be staffed 24/7, 365 days a year.
"Promises have been made to us that if we were a partner in this, help would be given to address our public safety needs," South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood told lawmakers when speaking in support of the bill.
David Litvack, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski's deputy chief of staff, also spoke in favor of the bill, as did Midvale Mayor Robert Hale. Salt Lake City will host two 200-bed homeless resource centers. Midvale already hosts the Road Home's family shelter.
But Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, questioned what would happen if both SB235 and HB462, which would require cities lacking low-income and affordable housing to pay sales tax dollars to help fund the operations of the shelters, pass the Legislature.
"If both pass, cities would be asked to pay twice," said Cameron Diehl, executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
Diehl said the league members, who adamantly oppose HB462, also opposed an original version of SB235, but they're in the processes of reconsidering their position after Davis included the provision to allow cities to impose a sales tax to compensate for the tax dollars the bill would require.1 comment on this story
"Our membership recognizes the additional impact on public safety and the five cities that have shelters, and our membership is willing to work with those cities on that mechanism," Diehl said.
HB462 has already cleared the House, but still awaits consideration in the Senate.
Sen. Daniel Hemmert, R-Orem, motioned to pass SB235 out of committee but on the basis that it would be reconciled with HB462 at some point as it moves forward.
Weiler was the only senator out of five that voted against the bill Thursday. It now goes to the Senate floor.