Salt Lake County budget moving toward key decisions

Council head urges cuts, but 1st proposed tax hike goes through.
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Three-plus hours of budget talks Monday evening provided mixed signals about how much of Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon's proposed 17.5 percent tax increase the Republican-majority County Council might support when deliberations wrap up Tuesday.

Council Chairman David Wilde kicked off the budget workshop saying Corroon's proposed tax hike "has the potential to hurt people" still limping along in a fragile economy. He urged his colleagues to look for cuts to Corroon's revenue plan, which would raise $31 million to fund delivery of countywide services, and to reduce the tax hike as much as possible.

But when the council had its first chance to do that — in considering a proposed tax hike for the library system budget — it opted instead to go along with Corroon's suggested increase, which would cost an additional $18.38 a year for the owner of a $238,000 home, the county's median value.

The Republicans could still trim that tax increase back.

To comply with truth-in-taxation law, the legal notice in which the council announces a proposed tax hike lists the maximum amount that can be sought. But even after that notice is submitted for publication (it has to be to the printer by noon Wednesday), the council has some time to tinker with the budget and manipulate the tax-rate hike, as long as it goes down.

Because of this wiggle room allowed under truth-in-taxation, the council's four Democrats had attempted to increase Corroon's proposed tax increase for the library to 25 percent, arguing the extra revenue would keep the library financially solvent longer.

But the Republicans shot that motion down 5-4 along party lines. Said Councilman Michael Jensen: "You won't see a majority from the Republican side ever go above what the mayor proposed."

Corroon did get council support for part of his proposal to finish restoring county employees' compensation packages, which were cut at the onset of the Great Recession and partially put back into place last year.

The council backed the mayor's plan to boost employees' base pay by 1.75 percent, bringing wages back to where they were before the cuts, but hesitated to go along with Corroon's proposal to also restore the county's suspended 2 percent contribution to employees' 401(k) plans.

That benefit was caught up in a larger discussion about how the county pays its obligations to retiree benefit plans. Those obligations could "bankrupt the county" unless addressed soon, Jensen warned, endorsing a unanimous council decision to set aside $1.9 million — as Corroon proposed — for the retirement program.

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More deliberations

The Salt Lake County Council will resume its budget talks at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Room 2003, North Building, of the County Government Center, 2001 S. State.