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Exactly how big is the $254 million budget proposed by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker?
For some members of the City Council, it's a tricky question one that is likely to influence the body's discussions over the next month as it struggles to adopt a spending plan.
In a worst-case scenario, it could set the stage for higher tax bills for property owners a year from now. Even though the proposed budget includes no rate increase, the growth in revenues has triggered a "truth in taxation" public hearing in coming weeks.
The budget for this fiscal year that ends June 30 is $230 million. The budget for fiscal year 2016 that begins July 1 is $254 million but it includes a $10 million line item for the Redevelopment Agency that was accounted for differently in the previous budget. Apples to apples, the budget proposed for the upcoming fiscal year is $14 million larger than the current one a 6 percent bump, twice the rise from the previous year.
For some council members it appears too hefty an increase.
The mayor's proposal projects an extra $5.4 million in property-tax revenues for the coming fiscal year. And his budget estimates sales-tax growth of $1.6 million. Other revenue streams also are projected to go up.
The question is, do the projections reflect a trend that can be relied upon in future budgets or is it a one-time windfall that should be treated with caution? If the council votes to allocate the $254 million to ongoing improvements and services and it turns out to be an anomaly, then members would be under real pressure to raise taxes next year.
"We need more clarity as a council on the surety of these numbers," said Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall in a Monday interview.
"The increase in the amount of [projected revenue] is staggering."
But David Everitt, Becker's chief of staff, said he is confident about the projections.
In the coming fiscal year, there is more property tax revenue, he said referring to new growth. And with the improving economy, more people will be paying property tax on time.
The mayor's budget staff has accurately projected revenues in the past, he said.
"We are comfortable with these numbers," he said. "We will rely on our record."
Councilman Charlie Luke isn't so sure.
"This is a departure from the budgets we've received in the past from the mayor," he said. "It's a big budget and a big step."
Exactly how much the projections impact the council's approved budget will be played out over the next four to five weeks.
It must adopt a budget by the third week in June.
"As a council member, I'm going to be looking at it closely," Luke said. "I want to make sure we keep things on a sustainable path."
But Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said he believes the revenue increases reflect a trend of new growth and spending in an improving economy. He conceded, however, that the formula for projecting revenue is complicated.
If a majority of the council does not buy off on the projections, it can cut the proposed budget.
"When I look at the numbers, it seems like stabilized revenue," LaMalfa said. "For those who do not think we should calculate property tax revenues this way, they will have to find cuts in the mayor's budget."
Budget discussions will continue at the council's 1 p.m. work session Tuesday at City Hall, 451 S. State, Room 326.