Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Salt Lake City budget proposal takes aim at 'dark cloud' over the valley

By Dennis Romboy, Deseret News

Published: Tue, May 6 7:31 p.m. MDT

 Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's proposed budget aims to cut air pollution, close a fire station and give city employees a raise.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's proposed budget aims to cut air pollution, close a fire station and give city employees a raise.

(Deseret News)

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.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

Recommended
1. DN Subscriber
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
May 7, 2014

Eliminating Salt Lake's annual smog problem is a noble sounding goal.

It is also a fool's errand which is financially unaffordable. Unless, of course, we can undo the geography which has left Salt Lake in a basin where inversions naturally form. Or, until we can repeal the laws of physics.

But, such hurdles have never stopped liberals from pursuing noble sounding goals as long as they have other people's money to spend. Even when their programs fail, they will continue to spend more money on them, never letting reality interfere with their good intentions.

2. gmlewis
Houston, TX,
May 7, 2014

Reducing further emissions isn't a fool's errand. It won't accomplish the whole goal for the Basin, but it should produce a measurable improvement.

The air quality around my home in Houston, Texas was unbearable in the late 1960's - the filth in the air could literally be seen. Within a decade, the quality was improved enormously by using cleaner gasoline and applying higher air quality standards for the many petroleum refineries.

Clean air efforts won't make things perfect, but it can help.

3. Strider303
Salt Lake City, UT,
May 7, 2014

"Population growth and commercial development,,,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."

I thought city fathers understood the issues before they approved them. Maybe lack of revenue is linked to the "urban atmosphere" of downtown. Corner to corner panhandlers, pricey parking meter fees come to my mind.

Bike trails are a nice weekend draw but I don't see a great deal of revenue there.

Maybe the lack of revenue has something to do with the nation's economic outlook of increased health care costs, aging population that doesn't need as much "stuff" and young people saddled with school loans who are underemployed income-wise for their debt load - a practical life lesson from years of higher education paid for with anemic post college salaries.

Why diesel fueled vehicles? I thought CNG was the fuel of the future. To be politically correct, I presume the diesel will be organic/vegetable based, right?

4. Mormon Ute
Kaysville, UT,
May 7, 2014

DN Subscriber,

It may not be possible to completely clean the air, but progress can and should be made for the sake of your health and mine. Over the past 30 years Mexico City has made more progress than Salt Lake. We can do better.

Strider303,

Property tax rates and collections are governed by the State and the County. The City is just a recipient of a portion of those taxes. So appealing to the State for and audit and explanation makes perfect sense. Also, the DNews reporter didn't get all the information on the fuel switch. The City is switching to clean diesel for the big trucks that need diesel power, but all smaller vehicles are being switched to compressed natural gas. It won't happen immediately, but over the next 5 years most of the fleet will be switched.

5. 2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
May 7, 2014

Good... If he can clean our air by waving his magic wand... I'm all for that!
Anybody who can clean our air... I'm all for that.

But if next year our air is just as dirty... I say we fire him, just like the Democrats keep insisting we fire all Republican legislators if the Legislature doesn't clean our air.