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Salt Lake City seeking public input on 2 proposed tax increases

SALT LAKE CITY — Faced with a list of underfunded needs — from catching up on road maintenance to funding new police officers — Salt Lake City leaders want to know what taxpayers think about two proposed sales tax increases.

A series of public meetings are scheduled for next few weeks to gauge public appetite for the proposals, which could bring in about $120 million in new city revenue.

That includes an estimated $33 million in annual funds from a 0.5 percent sales tax hike and $87 million in one-time funds through a new bond.

The bond would result in an estimated $5 a year in property taxes for the average Salt Lake City homeowners but would replace two bonds approved by voters 20 years ago. It would need voter approval if city officials decide to place it on the November ballot.

The sales tax increase, which would add up to about 5 cents for every $10 spent — excluding sales on food and big-ticket items like vehicles — just needs City Council approval thanks to a law passed in 2015 that provided the sales tax option to offset the impact of the relocated state prison.

"The issues that we hope to address with the new revenue are issues we’ve heard about from Salt Lake City residents for years that need such significant new money that there isn’t any possibility of sufficiently addressing them with our regular budget," said City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall on Thursday.

Matthew Rojas, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, said the ongoing funds from the sales tax increase could be used to help fund four priority areas that have long been issues identified by residents that need further investment: street repair, affordable housing, transit service and neighborhood safety.

The bond’s one-time money could be used to help the city catch up on street and roadway conditions, Rojas said, noting that a recent roadway survey found nearly 2/3 of Salt Lake City’s roads are in poor or worse condition. City staff estimates it would need to spend about $20 million per year for the next 10 years to upgrade roadway conditions from failing to improving.

Late last year, the City Council also voted to fund 50 new police officers amid strain from Operation Rio Grande and demand from residents for the city to return cops to neighborhood beats. The city enacted a $5 million adjustment to this year’s budget to start the hiring process, but the new officers will require about $12 million in one-time and ongoing costs for new vehicles, equipment and salaries.

Rojas said since Biskuspki took office, she and her team have been working to develop "robust plans" to address pressing issues facing Salt Lake City, including a mass transit plan and the city’s first housing plan in years. Now the city is prepared to decide what to do with potential new revenue, he said.

Right now, Rojas said Biskupski’s team is in the midst of drafting the mayor’s next budget proposal, scheduled for May 1, and is creating two drafts: one with the sales tax increase and one without.

From public feedback the city has received for years, Rojas said city leaders are confident Salt Lake residents want to fund the city needs, but city officials want to get as much opinion as possible on the two tax proposals before deciding to act.

"We want to get more feedback," Rojas said. "What we’ve heard from residents has led us to believe these are things they want."

A recent survey of 515 Salt Lake City residents found about 65 percent of respondents supported increasing sales taxes to provide ongoing funding for growth-related priorities. The poll, conducted by Strategies 360 for Salt Lake City in January with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent points, also found about 66 percent of respondents would support a bond proposal for infrastructure projects.

The city is conducting another survey, at fundingourfutureslc.com, to seek more input. As of Thursday, about 200 residents had taken the survey, Rojas said, but officials hope many more will participate, as well as attend a series of public hearings scheduled in April.

The public meetings include:

April 3, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. — Public open house, Salt Lake City-County Building, 451 S. State Street, 3rd floor, council workroom.
April 3, 5:15 p.m. — City Council work session briefing, Salt Lake City-County Building, 451 S. State Street, 3rd floor, council workroom.
April 3, 7 p.m. — Public hearing, Salt Lake City-County Building, 451 S. State Street, 3rd floor, council chambers.
April 4, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. — Sorenson Unity Center, 1383 S. 900 W.
April 17, 7 p.m. — Final public hearing and potential City Council vote on sales tax increase, Salt Lake City-County Building, 451 S. State Street, 3rd floor, council chambers.

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