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.
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 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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