In agreeing to a tentative one-year contract that contains no pay raises of any kind, the Salt Lake Police Association this week made the only sensible and realistic choice open to it.

Forbidden by law to strike, the police, the fire fighters, and other city workers, have few options in the face of Mayor Palmer DePaulis' insistence that the city simply has no money for salary increases.That's a difficult situation for employees who see their purchasing power slowly eroding, even at today's low rate of inflation. To their credit, the police and others have swallowed hard and accepted the hard economic times caused by a revenue crunch in the city budget.

The police reached a "handshake agreement" with city negotiators after months of difficult and sometimes bitter talks. The deal still has to be ratified by members of the Police Association.

A similar one-year contract was signed this week between the city and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The local International Association of Firefighters is still negotiating with the city.

The one thing that persuaded the police and others to accept the no-raise contract was a clause agreeing to reopen the city budget in March 1989 to see if any surplus funds have been acquired, and to see if they might be used for minimal raises in the last fiscal quarter of the year.

It's possible to have a great deal of sympathy for both sides in this difficult situation. The city has held the line against tax increases in the midst of a statewide tax revolt, but the price has been heavy. The City Council already has taken $500,000 out of the capital improvements budget to balance this year's general fund budget. That kind of juggling can only be carried so far.

Clearly, with a one-year pact, the police and others are putting city officials on notice to provide some kind of pay raise next year. But if tax limitation initiatives should cut city revenues even further, there could be a real showdown in the works.