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Kristin Murphy, KSL

Salt Lake City Council approves final budget, using $1.1M in extra cash for new firefighters

By Katie McKellar, KSL | Posted - Jun 12th, 2019 @ 7:20am


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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Council voted to approve this year's $331 million budget Tuesday night after making a few changes to the mayor's proposal — including more funding for six additional firefighters.

And while the council also reduced a parking fee increase proposed by the mayor, Salt Lake City residents and visitors will still be paying about 25 cents more for parking.

The City Council's approval of the budget solidifies many line items included in Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski's budget proposal unveiled last month, which included pay raises for employees and police officers (meant to increase officer retention), as well as tens of millions of new sales tax money for transit, affordable housing, and streets thanks to a sales tax hike city leaders approved last year.

The final budget also included another installment of Salt Lake City water rate increases, including an 18 percent sewer rate increase, a 10 percent hike on stormwater and 5 percent hike on culinary water to pay for infrastructure improvements, such as a new wastewater plant estimated to cost $528 million.

The council spent the last several weeks delving into the budget and exploring changes — including a previous proposal to use overtime savings and a two-month delay in hiring 23 new police officers to help pay for the cost of six more firefighters and training, which would total about $289,000.

The council also eyed a 50 cent increase in parking meter rates, which Biskupski proposed to address decreasing revenue and changes in state law. Though council members signaled they were unhappy about the rate increase without more public input, an informal vote last week showed the council would narrowly support the proposal.

But then, the city lucked out.

Monday, the State Tax Commission released final revenue numbers, showing an additional nearly $1.1 million in growth revenue city leaders could factor into their budget, according to city staff.

The City Council then voted to use the extra revenue to fund the additional firefighter positions — and a 2.5 percent step pay raise for firefighters at their nine-year mark — as well as use about $393,000 to reduce the parking fee increase to 25 cents, rather than 50 cents.

Earlier Tuesday, Biskupski issued a statement saying she had "deep concern" about the city using new sales tax revenue meant to hire new police officers to do "anything other than what the residents prioritized in their support of the sales tax increase," calling on the City Council to use the extra growth revenue to fund the new firefighters.

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"The council runs the risk of breaking trust with the public by funding things other than the priorities identified by residents," Biskupski said. "This proposal allows us to fund new firefighters while keeping our promise to the public."

The mayor also suggested the City Council use the new revenue to offset a lower parking rate increase.

"While this is an issue we need to address, the extra revenue gives us some breathing room to implement the increase and engage the public to develop a more comprehensive plan,” Biskupski said.

After Biskupski's statement was issued, City Council Chairman Charlie Luke in the council's work meeting lashed out at the mayor and her administration for "spinning" changes to her budget recommendations to address issues he said the council was already working through.

"Once you submit a recommended budget, that is it," Luke said to David Litvack, the mayor's deputy chief of staff. "So we appreciate the feedback. We were already moving in that direction anyway so … it's important not to spin that more than you already are trying to. The recommended budget was the recommended budget. The rest of it is up to the council."

"Absolutely, we respect that," Litvack said.

The council also made several other changes, including pushing pause on some rate increases Biskupski proposed for trash and recycling, which included a 9.5 percent fee increase on trash collection rates for large garbage cans and a nearly 43 percent increase for recycling.

The council voted to put the increases on hold to give the issue more thought, even though city staff warned it could result in more price increases down the road.

Also, the City Council voted to move about $2.6 million in funding for the city's affordable housing loan program from a city division to the city's Redevelopment Agency, meant to streamline the loan application program.

The council also decided to put about $1.9 million into a holding account to have more discussions with the mayor's administration on the new affordable housing programs she's proposed before releasing the funding.

"As council members, we always take our job as the guardians of public funds very seriously," Luke said. "This year, the first full year the new sales tax revenue has been entrusted to us by the taxpayers, streamlining and making a more efficient, transparent government has become even more important. We have confidence this work will help us in continuing to build a stronger, vibrant capital city."

Biskupski has until the end of the month to sign the budget, veto some or all of the budget, or let it go into effect without her signature.

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