Police will see more funding, the city will set up a new department and burned-out emergency centers will try a shortened working week.
Salt Lake City City Council on Tuesday evening approved its budget for fiscal year 2021-2022, which will bring spending back to pre-pandemic levels and face far less financial uncertainty than last year.
The budget provides money for the usual urban functions, such as maintaining parks and paying urban staff. But this year there was also a big focus on public safety. The Salt Lake Tribune had previously addressed Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s recommended changes for the upcoming fiscal year starting next month. But the city council has made its own tweaks and additions, including $ 358 million for the general fund, that’s more than $ 8 million on top of what the mayor proposed. Here are some of the budget highlights:
Taxes won’t go up, but fees will
With the end of the coronavirus pandemic in sight, with businesses mostly returning to normal and a construction boom in full swing, the city council will not raise property taxes. City dwellers, however, might see a slight increase in certain fees for things like business licenses, building permits, and parking reservations. Mendenhall had previously recommended increasing those fees in accordance with the Consumer Price Index, although city officials said the increases won’t complete until July.
Salt Lakers will also see up to 18% increase in their utility bills for sewers to help fund new wastewater treatment plants. Garbage collection fees will also increase by 12%.
The police get a push
Amid calls to take the pressure off the police last year, the city council made some modest cuts and shifted part of the police agency’s budget to non-departmental funds last year. In line with Mendenhall’s recommendation, the council restored the police budget, giving it an increase of nearly $ 1 million from fiscal 2019. The total police budget for the next 12 months is nearly $ 83.4 million.
The department is currently struggling with 84 vacancies, an increase in layoffs and service calls that are up 20% over the past year.
The council will fund 12 more social workers to support the police – twice as many psychiatric workers as requested by the mayor – and bring the total number of social workers in the department to 22.
The budget also provides $ 2 million to fund future improvements in police interactions with the public, recommended by the Commission on Racial Justice in the Police Force.
911 dispatchers get a little relief
2020 has been a tough year for the city’s employees working in the 911 call center, and not just because of the pandemic. The earthquake on March 18 increased the call volume by 700 calls compared to the previous year. The center received appeals for help due to the protest on September 30. Then, on September 8, hurricane-force winds flooded the center with calls for help, with the volume increasing by 2,300 calls compared to 2019, according to a budget proposal to the city council last month.
By December 31, the center had lost 27 employees. The annual turnover of the emergency call center was 28%.
The city council agreed to pay for a new pilot program that would include hiring eight new workers and reducing dispatchers’ working weeks to 32 hours on the same pay. The mayor recommended $ 153,450 to fund the program for six months, and the city council increased it by $ 127,875 to make it an 11-month pilot. The additional money came from the income from Funding Our Future.
The city is getting new employees, a new public market and a new department
The city will use federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to hire 60 more employees to improve city services and create programs to help residents recover from the pandemic. The budget also provides for a 2% increase in current employees. And to bring more fresh food to the underserved communities to the west of the city, the budget is allocating $ 1 million for a year-round public market in the Fairpark district. The council also allocated $ 18.8 million to a new public land office that will oversee hiking trails, open spaces, parks and urban forestry.