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Salt Lake City Council advances tax hike proposal despite threat of veto

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — With Mayor Ralph Becker's threat of veto looming, the Salt Lake City Council pushed forward with a proposed $7 million property tax increase, confident it will have enough support to circumvent the mayor.

The tax hike would fill a $3 million gap in the general fund that emerged as the council began shifting and stretching Becker's recommended 2013-14 budget. It would dedicate $4 million to neglected capital improvement projects, focusing on core services and fixing crumbling streets.

The 12.1 percent property tax hike represents $47.52 annually on a $200,000 home, or $59.40 for a $250,000 home. A $1 million business would pay $432 annually.

The proposed increase was backed by five affirmative votes, making it veto-proof so long as no one wavers. Councilmen Carlton Christensen and Stan Penfold voted against the hike.

Becker promised in an editorial published Sunday in the Deseret News that he would nix the increase, spotlighting approved tax increases by Salt Lake County and the Salt Lake City School District that will hit residents' pocketbooks in the next year. Becker assured his lean, no-frills budget mirrors those of the past two years.

"I recognize this is a challenging year," Becker said. "Our budget team struggled as never before to balance a budget without an increase, but we accomplished the task. My recommended budget does not cut city services in a discernible way."

Becker has not raised taxes through his five years in office.

Councilwoman Jill Remington Love, who backed the proposal, said tax increase addresses infrastructure costs that were conscientiously shelved in light of rising costs and cannot be neglected any longer.

Several council members, including Christensen, expressed the same sentiments in their comments.

"I don't want to send the message we're not a well-managed city," Love said. "We all know — even the people who voted no — at some point we're going to have to raise taxes."

Becker seems to agree. In Sunday's editorial, the mayor proposed using the next year to engage the public in "thoughtful conversation," mapping out the city's future financial route.

"Raising taxes should not be a quick, Band-Aid approach," Becker said in the editorial, elaborating on several voter-approved tax increases supported over the past several years. "But, rightfully, they expect to know what they will get with a tax increase. Paving a few more streets and fixing a few more sidewalks alone will not serve our city well."

Jason Mathis, executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber and executive director of the Downtown Alliance, told the council in a public hearing Tuesday night, "we stand with Mayor Becker."

Mathis said the next several weeks don't let adequate time for public input as the budget is approved and a truth-in-taxation hearing is staged.

The City Council is expected to vote on whether to adopt the budget — including the proposed increase — on June 18. Council members encouraged the public to reach out to them with any input or comment before next week's meeting.


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