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Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams proposed Tuesday a $1.1 billion budget for 2015 that does not require a tax increase but does include several investments to bolster the valley's quality of life.
His budget provides extra funding for recreational projects, from trails and tennis courts to pool time for children with autism. It foresees advances in the effort to find a site for a mid-valley regional theater and the development of a smaller playhouse in Sandy. And it will focus on economic development to make the county attractive to the growing population of well-educated young adults who will be the backbone of a thriving metropolis in the future.
The Republican-led County Council will go through the budget in detail during the next month. But at first glance, council Chairman Michael Jensen said the Democratic mayor's budget seems fundamentally sound, recognizes the county's dual role as a valleywide authority and the caretaker of unincorporated communities, and essentially "addresses all the things the County Council said are priorities."
McAdams said his budget is based on the county being on a sound financial footing low unemployment, a coveted AAA bond rating, growing sales-tax receipts but also recognizes problems looming beyond its control.
"The massive Kennecott landslide and recovery is still having an impact on taxable sales growth," he said. "Federal government dysfunction and state inaction on the Healthy Utah plan are injecting some degree of uncertainty on our projections."
While "this is a lean budget that shows our county is living within its means," McAdams added, "my proposed $1.1 billion net budget helps finance the decisions that we must act on today in order to have a tomorrow of our own choosing."
To that end, the mayor is looking to expand the "Pay for Success" program in which the county teams with private-sector and nonprofit supporters to do results-based projects such as funding preschool education or jail recidivism-reduction efforts.
He said the county will partner with the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, which has received a $1 million grant to provide technical assistance on future Pay for Success projects. In addition, McAdams said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, will push for "a modest federal bill that supports our local Pay for Success initiatives."
In conjunction with Pay for Success, McAdams also will unveil a "dashboard" that will provide the County Council with real-time information on the progress of projects.
"These changes won't be instantaneous or final but will start a feedback loop of continuous evaluation and improvement in the effectiveness of services we provide," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to invest limited taxpayer dollars in practices, policies and programs that use data and evidence to show what works. We can then direct funds away from programs that fail to achieve measurable outcomes and essentially do more good with less wasted time and money."
County employees stand to receive a 2.75 percent merit pay increase in the mayor's budget. His office also is undertaking a comprehensive review of the county's compensation structure to see how it stacks against private-sector pay.
McAdams' spending plan includes almost 20 new employees, including three each for the district attorney, sheriff and Center for the Arts.
The mayor proposed erecting two county health department buildings instead of a single large headquarters. One will be in Salt Lake City, the other in the fast-growing southwest valley.
He also included a fourfold increase in funding up to more than $40 million to finish scores of deferred-maintenance issues. That issue has been a major concern to Councilman Max Burdick, especially when that maintenance tab topped $200 million and was growing.
"I'm really pleased with the progress we've made and the future plans to deal with deferred maintenance," said the Sandy Republican, who generally applauded the budget proposal but added he was uneasy about the county embarking on new programs so soon after emerging from the hard times of the Great Recession.
Democratic Councilman Sam Granato appreciated that McAdams had included a pay raise for county employees. Since the budget was "very much in tune" with the desires of the council, Granato predicted McAdams should have little difficulty get most of it approved. "He has a lot of vim and vigor. He knows where the dollars are and we'll get it done."