Whether Salt Lake City residents are "ready" something Mayor Ralph Becker worries about or not, it appears nearly certain they will be paying higher property taxes next year.
While it may not be the best time for a tax increase is there ever a good time? with effects of the Great Recession lingering, waiting would only cost taxpayers more in the long run. Now is the time to do it. The city's crumbling streets, rundown parks and aging fleet would only deteriorate further if a tax increase to address those realities were delayed a year, as Becker has proposed.
At least five members of the City Council, a veto-proof majority, rightly say they are ready to vote for the tax bump in order to get started on fixing the city's infrastructure.
The proposal backed by the council majority would raise $7 million and result in a $59.40 annual tax increase on a house valued at $250,000 and $432 on a commercial property worth $1 million. About $4 million would go to infrastructure maintenance, and about $3 million would go to increase services, some of which were cut during the recession.
Raising taxes can be a bad move in an election year, but only Councilman Stan Penfold is running for re-election this year. He voted against any tax increase. Councilman Soren Simonsen voted for an $8 million increase; Councilwoman Jill Remington Love voted for a maximum $7 million hike; and Councilman Carlton Christensen voted against the $7 million increase but said he would support a $3 million boost.
Simonsen, Remington Love and Christensen are not seeking re-election. Councilmen Kyle LaMalfa and Luke Garrott, whose terms are not yet up, sought an $8 million tax increase, and Councilman Charlie Luke agreed to the $7 million proposal.
Becker has never signed off on a tax increase; he is in the second year of his second term. His argument that Salt Lake residents need more time to learn about the needs of their city and to give input on how additional taxes would be spent has some merit. But the need for repairs and upgrades to infrastructure is probably no surprise to the people who daily use city streets and parks.
Just as taxpayers have postponed some basic expenditures during tight economic times, they understand that the city has had to make tough choices to avoid raising taxes during the worst of the recession and yet continue to keep the city running.
The council seems to have faith in Salt Lake residents' ability to understand economic reality. Becker should, too.