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SLC mayor's $800 million spending plan to address 'dark cloud' over city

By Dennis Romboy | Posted - May 6th, 2014 @ 11:11pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker outlined his plan Tuesday to keep the state's capital city prosperous and livable.

And, as part of his proposed 2014-15 budget, the two-term mayor wants to do something about the "dark cloud hanging over us." Air pollution, he said, is the single biggest threat to the city's future health and well-being, both physically and economically.

Becker's $800 million spending plan doesn't include any tax increases but would close one of the city's 14 fire stations. He's proposing a raise for city employees and to bump a number of seasonal workers to full time.

The mayor proposes to continue converting the city fleet to clean-burning diesel by 2018 and replacing all two-stroke engines over the next two years. He also said he's committed to expanding bike paths and seeking more money for the downtown and Sugar House streetcar projects.

"I think we're making about as big an investment as we can, and we need help from our other partners, particularly from the state," Becker said in an interview.

Even though, he said, the city can meet basic needs without a property tax increase, it requires more resources to be financially stable in the future.

Becker's budget includes emergency response changes
by Andrew Adams
SALT LAKE CITY — When emergency medical calls are made, often both an ambulance and a fire truck respond. Mayor Ralph Becker said that many times sending both vehicles is "overkill," and he wants to make the process more efficient.

"To have six or eight or more people there … you kind of shake your head," Becker said.

Becker said a fire engine and an ambulance for a person ailing on a curb is often way too much, and many Utahns feel the same way.

"You can be more efficient with less people, and it doesn't do any good to have 20 people standing around," said resident Ryan Thill.

Becker said traditionally firefighters go out with their engines on any call, because they have to be prepared for a "major fire event." But under the mayor's proposed plan, there would be a number of 2-man emergency teams, likely equipped with SUVs, to tackle many of the medical problems in the city.

Ideally, these 2-man teams would be utilized for more efficiency during peak times of the day, but there's a tradeoff.

Because they only receive about two calls a day, Fire Station No. 9 on Amelia Earhart Drive would shut down and the firefighters would be reassigned. The station was instrumental last July in conducting multiple controlled burns to neutralize some dangerous, compromised chemicals.

"There are very few residents, so the life safety issues aren't nearly as great," Becker said.

No everyone is ready to rubber stamp the proposal. Councilman Luke Garrott likes the idea of smaller medical response teams, but he isn't sold on the whole idea.

"We'll get a counterpoint to it," Garrott said. "It's going to be a hard decision for us and we've got a lot of discussion yet to happen."

City fire officials will respond to the mayor's proposal on Wednesday. They mayor's budget must be approved by the city council before June 22.

Population growth and commercial development, including City Creek Center and new office buildings, in the past few years have not translated proportionately into revenues for the city, he said.

"In a lot of respects, we don't understand it," Becker said.

To get a clearer picture, the Democratic mayor intends to turn to a perhaps unlikely source: Republican state auditor John Dougall. Becker intends to enlist Dougall to study what's going on among the state tax commission, county assessor and redevelopment areas and make recommendations.

Becker said he would continue to advocate for Congress to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow the collection of sales and use taxes from Internet retailers with no presence in the state. He also called on the state to allow local government more ability to decide bus and light-rail service and pay for local roads with a user fee or tax.

As part of his budget proposal, Becker would close fire station No. 9 at 5822 W. Amelia Earhart Drive. Some of those firefighters would be reassigned to two-person emergency squads in the city center.

The proposed budget anticipates a 3 percent raise for the city's 3,000 employees, whom Becker said haven't had a meaningful increase since he became mayor in 2008. It also makes 11-month, part-time workers — those furloughed one month a year to save money on benefits — full time at a cost of $1.5 million.

Becker said it's the right thing to do.

"We do not want to be in the position of cutting corners on the backs of the very people who work hard every day to take care of our residents and businesses and who make the mayor and the City Council look good," he said.

As for his own political future, Becker isn't saying. He said he won't decide whether to run for a third term in 2015 until after this year's election.


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