The 1990-91 budget submitted this week by Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis is not going to make him popular in some quarters. It carries a double burden for residents with its proposed property tax hike and reduction in services. But such a budget appears to be necessary if the city is to have better police protection.
The $2.1 million tax increase will be used to hire 46 new police officers, still not as many as Police Chief Michael Chabries wanted. But the additional help is badly needed to combat drug-related criminal activity and the growing problem of youth gangs.However, strengthening police protection in the city may not do much to reduce overall crime. Criminal activity may simply move more to the county, although the city and county make up essentially a single metropolitan area.
Efforts by Salt Lake County Sheriff Pete Hayward to bolster his department earlier this year were mostly rejected by the County Commission in its budget struggles.
While no one likes tax increases, the expansion of the city police force may make the property tax hike politically easier to sell, since law and order also are significant local issues. Other tax proposals include a healthy increase in the garbage fee, which has been kept artificially low. Budget analysts recently suggested the service be self-supporting.
In addition, the mayor is suggesting several reductions in service - a tactic that usually causes a public outcry. These include closing the Liberty Park swimming pool, elimination of city-sponsored fireworks at July 4 and July 24 celebrations and ending the trash pickup program.
Some of the proposed cuts may take place, but others, based on past experience, will probably be reinstated by the City Council. The annual trash cleanup is one probability.
The city's budget squeeze is not due only to the need for more police; the state method of calculating the sharing of sales tax revenues was changed, resulting in a loss of $600,000 to the city. As DePaulis rightly observed, this means the city has to run harder just to stay in the same place.
In offering his austere budget, the mayor raised the possibility of some revenue-increasing changes in the future that might become serious points of controversy.
One would be a revival of the old question of some kind of commuter tax. People who work in the city but reside elsewhere almost double the city's population during work days, with a considerable drain on services. But the commuter tax has been tough to sell in the past.
Another possibility raised by DePaulis is a "service fee" on tax-exempt institutions that own some 40 percent of the property in the city. Again, that plan likely would involve an uphill struggle.
While Salt Lake City's residential population may be dwindling, the city still needs significant police protection and a wide variety of other services that do not get any cheaper. Yet there are many poorer neighborhoods and high crime areas in the city's limited tax base.
Clearly, it is getting harder to keep the city viable without more revenue. That's why some of these old ideas are being revived. They need to be re-examined with an eye toward keeping Salt Lake City a vital, safe and attractive place to live and do business.