Salt Lake County Council members swallowed hard Friday and approved a 2013 budget whose two property tax increases are predicted to cost the average county homeowner about $77 more per year.
The 7-2 vote culminated a monthlong council analysis of outgoing Democratic Mayor Peter Corroon's proposed $788 million budget, which recommended a 17.5 percent tax hike for countywide services and a 22.4 percent boost to the library tax.
But despite repeated efforts to trim the budget, particularly by conservative Councilman Richard Snelgrove, the Republican-majority council cut only $2.5 million from Corroon's proposal (lowering the countywide tax bump to 16.2 percent).
Then three GOP councilmen joined the four Democrats in determining taxes had to go up for the first time since 2001 to preserve facilities and programs critical to the quality of life in the county.
"Fiscal responsibility is not just cutting," said Arlyn Bradshaw, expressing the support of the council's Democratic caucus for Corroon's plan to maintain current human services programs, run the jail and other criminal justice programs, and to enable the county's nine elected officials to do their jobs assessing, surveying and auditing.
He said the county has made significant personnel and program cuts since 2009 and that raising taxes is necessary to keep government functioning, even if it could come at the expense of voter outrage next election.
"If I lose, well, so be it," said Bradshaw, adding that the services spared by increasing taxes are important to answering the question, "What kind of community do we want to be? That is the ultimate question."
His Democratic colleague, Jani Iwamoto, said that forcing more cutbacks by denying county operations needed revenues could be counterproductive, undermining the county's reputation in the eyes of the three big credit-rating agencies.
"Some of these cuts could hurt our county more [in the long run] if we lost our AAA bond rating," she said.
Republican Snelgrove, who tried in vain throughout the budget process to hold back on programs and personnel hirings, argued again Friday that "this is not the right time [to raise taxes] because of the current economic climate. Nor is it the right time to implement new programs."
While he did not agree with every cut proposed by Snelgrove, Council Chairman David Wilde supported most and voted with him against the budget. "We shouldn't be imposing an increase of this magnitude," Wilde said.
But the other three GOP councilmen Steve DeBry, Max Burdick and Michael Jensen concluded the tax increase could not be avoided any longer without harming what the county has built and done to date.
"We have problems we need to address. We can't kick the can down the road [any longer]," said an impassioned DeBry, recounting how he could not close senior centers, curtail parks and recreation programs, or put handcuffs on law enforcement officials and prosecutors. "In the long run, this saves us a lot of money and makes our community safer," he said.
Burdick said the County Council has a responsibility to be good stewards of its assets after four years of "cut, cut, cut.
"To let facilities close up and begin to rot makes no sense to me," he said, contending the countywide tax increase of $5 a month ($59 annually for the owner of a $238,000 home, the county's median value) "will get us back on a better track and taking care of things we need to take care of."
The $785 million Salt Lake County budget approved Friday by the County Council will:
• Raise countywide taxes 16.2 percent and library taxes 22.4 percent, producing a projected overall tax increase of $77 annually for the owner of a $238,000 home, the county's media value. The increase will appear on tax bills sent out next November.
• Restore the last 1.75 percent of wage cuts (2.75 percent overall) enacted during the Great Recession.
• Includes one last new line item $200,000 to move the skate park at 4800 S. Redwood Road in Taylorsville.