Fortune continues to smile on Salt Lake City's economy, and that makes the practice of writing the annual budget fairly simple. Mayor Deedee Corradini unveiled her latest spending recommendations this week while announcing that projected revenues would be up 7.3 percent over the current fiscal year - a year that originally was touted as the best for the city in decades.
Salt Lake City is poised like a surfer on the crest of a bulging wave. Businesses are moving in and thriving. People are moving in, as well, fueling the city's first real population growth in 30 years. All in all, it is a good time to be mayor.But, as Corradini herself has acknowledged, good times won't last forever. In years to come, her performance will be judged more on how she helped prepare the city for the bad times than on how she handled prosperity. Fortunately, she seems to understand this, and her proposed budget has its eye on the future.
If there is a looming problem on the horizon, it is crime. Recently released statistics from the FBI show Salt Lake City's crime rate soared by 16 percent during the last year. If the trend continues, businesses would suffer and people would opt to work in the suburbs rather than downtown. Government eventually would strain under the weight of providing services for deteriorating neighborhoods.
Corradini's budget would add 10 new police officers under a federal grant, and it would provide for them to continue working when the grant eventually expires. That is a positive step that should bolster her ongoing initiatives to establish neighborhood police centers.
But part of the city's crime problem can be attributed to the overcrowded Salt Lake County Jail. Officials estimate fewer than 40 percent of the people arrested by city police officers are booked into jail. And most of those are released within 24 hours. Corradini's budget calls for a study of long-term jail needs and potential solutions. Eventually that may mean building a separate jail for the city.
Corradini's budget also keeps neighborhoods in mind, recommending a five-fold increase in a matching grant program that induces volunteers to clean their own areas of the city. Along with this, she is including $1.5 million for new sidewalks and pavement, as well as other im-prove-ments.
The mayor also is proposing more incentives to lure developers into building homes for low- and middle-income families, making sure the city does not become a place where only the very wealthy or the indigent can live.
Other parts of the proposed budget will be unpopular. For example, the price of a basic parking ticket would rise from $7 to $10, and the city would try to force everyone with a basement apartment to obtain apartment licenses, incurring a minimum cost of $103 per year.
The parking fines are designed to keep cars, and shoppers, moving. The mayor believes too may people are willing to sacrifice the current $7 fine to stay in a good parking spot, and that discourages other potential shoppers. Whether an extra $3 changes that willingness remains to be seen.
Apartment licensing requirements would help the city keep all rental units up to a livable code. But neither proposal is likely to sail effortlessly through the budgeting process.
Other problems are not as easy to solve. State lawmakers have declined to give cities the financial freedom to handle hard times. Eventually, property tax revenues always fall behind inflation, and cities receive only a share of sales tax revenues generated, without the freedom to raise the rates.
These are problems that affect all Utah cities. Lawmakers need to recognize this and make changes before hard times return.
Meanwhile, Corradini deserves credit for a forward-looking budget.