The Mayor’s new budget drops, and it’s the city’s biggest ever. Our Top 6 Takeaways

Earlier this week, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall laid out her $424 million general fund budget (of a total $1.5 billion when including “enterprise funds” like water, sewers, street lighting, golf courses and the airport). 

By means of comparison, just ten years ago in 2012-13, that general fund figure was $205 million, less than half of this year’s budget. Overall spending that year, including the enterprise funds, was $786 million – just about half of what it is today.

For a city whose budget has doubled in the last ten years, population gain has not nearly been so robust. An increase from 186,000 residents in 2010 to 200,000 in 2020 is only 7% growth.

In her speech on Tuesday, the mayor alluded to both boom times and increased duties for the city: “Today we find ourselves in a unique economic position, with a growing economy, rising population and inflation. But, we also find ourselves at a position of never before seen demand for city services.”

What do Mayor Mendenhall’s 2022-23 budget priorities look like to development watchers? 

Here are our top five – OK, sorry – six takeaways.

6. The Mayor is going big on parks, livability and sustainability – $143 million of new spending 

The Mayor revealed bold plans to authorize an infusion of $143 million of local sales and property taxes into city parks, trails, open space, and other livability and sustainability initiatives. 

That new cash would come from two new sources of debt: a $80 million property tax bond proposed and needing approval from voters this fall, and a renewed sales-tax levy for a 25-year loan that was recently paid off.

That 25-year, $63 million ticket covered the construction of what was originally known as the “Steiner Ice Sheet,” part of the city’s infrastructure build for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Located on Guardsman Way between the U. of Utah and the Sunnyside East and Yalecrest neighborhoods, it is now a Salt Lake County recreation center.

The Mayor wants to keep that sales tax in place, committing it to a new bond likely to raise the same amount, $63 million, and put it to other projects. That would need City Council, but not voters’ approval. 

5. New park rangers – “already on the Jordan River Parkway”

Over $2 million is being requested, including 19 new full time positions, to build the first cohort of city park rangers entrusted with patrolling the city’s parks and foothills. 

The purpose, according to the Mayor’s budget book: “To work toward making people feel welcomed and safe in the city’s parts [sic], deterring inappropriate activity, reducing the number of vandalism incidents as well as other related activities.”

Rangers are “already on the Jordan River Parkway,” the Mayor told the City Council this week, immediately before her budget speech. 

4. More firefighters, medical response teams, and lots of police positions

Seven new positions in the Fire Department, four of which will make up the city’s third Medical Response Team, to be stationed in Sugar House. These mobile response teams have been created to respond to 911 calls that don’t require a full Fire Department response.

Eyebrows may rise at the jump in the Police Department budget, from $83 million to nearly $104 million. Of the $20.5 million more than last year going to Police, over $15 million, 80%, is allotted to new full-time positions as well as pay raises from 3.5 – 6% for the current force. The mayor’s speech mentioned 22 new FTEs, the city’s Budget Book shows 30 new full-time positions being added.

The administration notes that most of the new positions will be civilian employees of the Police department, who will be trained in methods of intervention other than deadly force.

3. New funds for traffic calming in neighborhoods

You want to make high-density development work? Make streets nearby calm and safe.

The city’s new program for making streets safer is called “Livable Streets,” and the Transportation Division is asking for 2 FTE’s to get it started. It seems like a moderate ask, given that the demand for safer streets seems to be strong city-wide. 

The Transportation Division told Building Salt Lake it has divided the city’s neighborhoods into 117 zones, and $2 million can cover four per year. Do that math and figure if your neighborhood should expect it in your lifetime, in other words.

Are residents willing to wait that long for safe streets?

Traffic deaths in the city are up, and local officials seem poised to take bigger budgetary and regulatory actions than adding these two positions, in order to increase safety for people outside cars. That might mean noticeable investments in safe streets for all, which experts insist are essential for walkable, urban-form development.

2. Affordable housing -$21 million toward new construction

Mayor Mendenhall’s speech included claims of “21-million dollars for affordable and deeply-affordable housing” contributing to another “1000-plus units for our residents.” Of course, that 21 million would produce only 100-plus units on its own. 

The funds that the city looks to leverage don’t look like new appropriations. Only changes are usually included in the summaries of the Mayor’s Budget Book which was released this week. Housing funds would normally be housed in the budgets of the Division of Housing Stability and the Redevelopment Agency, a city hall source confirmed – but the $21 million is not immediately apparent in the Mayor’s information provided to the public.

The Mayor noted that the $21 million in housing funds would be for “essential services workers like our firefighters, police officers, teachers, and librarians,” as well as people transitioning out of homelessness.

And, Number One in our Top Five Takeaways:

1. $80 million bond to go to voters this fall – Who wants improved parks, trails, greenery?

Emphasizing air quality and equity to justify her request, the Mayor wants voters to approve new property taxes to fund a $80 million General Obligation (GO) property-tax bond that will ask between $60 and $120 a year from the average homeowner (both numbers were cited in budget documents).

The $27 million earmarked for the redevelopment of the Glendale water park site – currently called “Glendale Regional Park” – is by far the single biggest-ticket item of the proposal. 

That would give $30.2 million for a major reworking of the former “Raging Waters” site, which is contiguous to two other city parks at 1700 S and the Jordan River. 

The entire area of the three city parks (not including Glendale Golf Course, also owned by the city) is nearly 150 acres, according to city officials from the Department of Public Lands who briefed the city council this week.

Did you know this is happening in Glendale along the Jordan River Trail in Salt Lake City? All credit to the keepers of the International Peace Gardens, Japan Garden, in Jordan Park.

The other park projects called out in the Mayor’s GO Bond proposal:

•Jordan River corridor improvements

•7 neighborhood parks, one in each council district, 1-7 (Madsen, Poplar Grove, Warm Springs, Reservoir, Jefferson, Donner/Rotary Glen, North Fairmont/McClelland Trail)

•Fleet Block, “to fulfill the need for access to open space in this area”

•Liberty Park, playground rehabilitation

•Folsom Trail completion, between 1000 W and the Jordan River and Trail

The City Council will consider the Mayor’s proposed budget this spring, needing to pass a series of ordinances authorizing the new budget that starts July 1.

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.