Salt Lake City's $2 billion budget includes higher taxes, new public restrooms and a pay raise for the mayor and Council. | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

June 19, 2024 News » Cover Story

Salt Lake City's $2 billion budget includes higher taxes, new public restrooms and a pay raise for the mayor and Council. 

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  • Cover art by Jessica Gross

Salt Lake City residents will pay higher taxes and service fees while funding larger salaries for the mayor and city council under a nearly $2 billion budget approved on June 11.

The budget, which sets spending for the 2025 fiscal year, includes new funding for Capital Improvement projects and services for the unsheltered, including additional public restrooms, with a series of fee and property tax increases aimed at addressing inflationary pressures on departments like public utilities, garbage collection, parks and libraries.

According to a breakdown of the budget posted to the City's website, the annual impact for a resident living in an average single-family home is projected to be $413.19.

"Enterprise funds operate as businesses," Ariana Williford, policy and engagement coordinator, explained. "Their revenue source comes from the fees that they charge to provide that service—not taxes, or permits or anything like that."

Each public utility operates under its own enterprise fund, Williford said, which is why residents see separate costs listed on bills.

"Inflation and population growth, especially—that has a big impact on our utilities. And it's not just Salt Lake City residents; we have a lot of people coming from outside of the city who come in and use some of our city services," Willford said. "As inflation increases and increases, the demand and the cost of providing utilities, especially, increases pretty significantly, so they have to raise the fees in order to recoup the cost of operating."

Utility fee increases include a 4% hike for water and sewer and a 10% increase for stormwater and streetlights. The public utilities department is also proposing a stabilization fee for water and sewer, which has seen a slowdown in funding due in part to residents using less water in response to drought conditions.

"A significant impact to revenues in the water utility budget have been the significant water conservation trends that we've seen," Laura Briefer, director of public utilities, explained to the Council at a work session on April 16. "We expect that our community is going to be continuing to sustain our conservation trends at that level, which is a really good thing—just not as good for our revenue using usage-based rates."

Because of this trend, water utilities have fallen short of their expected revenue in the last few years. The stabilization fee will help cover this gap in revenue and go towards operating costs, and will vary per household depending on the size of a particular home's water meter.

Briefer said the rate change for stormwater and streetlights will be less than a dollar each month for the average resident. For stormwater, Briefer anticipated a change of 72 cents per month, and for streetlights a monthly change of 41 cents.

The Department of Sustainability also requested a fee increase for garbage containers. For a 40-gallon container, monthly fees will increase by $2 dollars, with an increase of $3 for a 90-gallon container.

The City Library likewise requested an increase in property taxes. Noah Baskett, the library's executive director, said the increased rate would mean a change of about $39 a year for the average Salt Lake resident.

"We are asking for a $5.3 million tax increase—$2.2 million to fund immediate needs of the library for the forthcoming fiscal year and the remainder to restore some of the fund balance used for the roof renovation and really to ensure the long-term financial viability and sustainability of the library," Baskett explained to the Council at May 7 work session.

The Library earns 95% of its revenue from property taxes.

"We really are being very mindful of the myriad of increasing expenses that is hitting Salt Lake City taxpayers' wallets," Baskett said. "We're definitely being attentive to that, and we are confident that the added value proposed in this library's budget really does provide a great return on this additional investment."

The Metropolitan Water District also requested a small property tax increase to address infrastructure concerns.

The City offers Project Water Assist for residents who may struggle financially with paying their utility bills. A resident's income must qualify at 150% of the poverty level to utilize the program.


According to the 2024 Utah Poverty Guidelines, this means a household income of $46,800 for a family of four. Otherwise, if a customer has a family member aged 60 or older or a disabled family member, or qualifies for the Salt Lake County Tax Abatement Program, they would also qualify for assistance through Project Water Assist.

Public Restrooms
In their deliberation process, the Council made several adjustments to the Mayor's proposed budget. One of these adjustments addressed the lack of accessible public restrooms available to Salt Lake residents, specifically those experiencing homelessness.

"Homelessness is so much more than not having a home," John Hall, an unsheltered man, told the Council at their meeting on June 4. "It's utter despair, and you can help us by giving us restrooms, a place where we can keep clean. I had my foot amputated because I couldn't keep the wound clean."

Hall is one of several homeless Salt Lake residents who spoke on the need for accessible public restrooms, showers and laundry facilities at recent Council meetings. These speakers were brought to City Council meetings by the Nomad Alliance, a non-profit organization built to help the chronically unsheltered in Salt Lake.

"We believe that the people that need to be pushing change when it comes to, you know, the biggest human rights crisis we have going on right now—which is our homeless crisis—needs to be the people that are experiencing the terror of living on the streets," Kseniya Kniazeva, founder of Nomad Alliance, explained.

This advocacy led the Council to allocate $500,000 to a holding account intended to fund "near-term delivery of more restrooms," a staffing document from the Council's June 11 work session reads.

Council Chairperson Victoria Petro and Councilmember Alejandro Puy led the push for this funding. While a $100,000 study on public restrooms was recommended for funding as part of the Capital Improvements Program (or CIP), Petro and Puy emphasized the need for a quick solution to the lack of public restrooms, a situation from which unhoused communities specifically suffer.

"The study is for the totality of our population," Petro explained at a Council work session on June 4. "But we also know that there's a specific hygiene crisis for our unsheltered neighbors. So, the study in no way answers the urgency or even, maybe, the level of appropriateness of response to that."

At that same work session, Puy seemed to express disappointment at the Administration's lack of initiative in solving this problem.

"The administration also heard the concerns from the community as we did, and we didn't see that in the current budget," Puy said. "So, you know, this is an approach the administration could have also taken, much like with the micro shelter community last year. This is basically a pilot program to see if we can move the needle on this issue."

Council members floated the idea of using this money to create mobile hygiene facilities in the work session and in conversations with Kniazeva.

"Initially, [Chairperson Petro] was talking to me about the feasibility of purchasing decommissioned UTA buses and renovating them into each of those three hygiene items," Kniazeva explained—the three hygiene items being bathrooms, showers and laundry. "I know that the City Council has expressed their desire for this to be a mobile service so we can rotate around to different neighborhoods where people congregate, but it's up to the mayor now."

Now that the budget has been approved, the Administration is responsible for proposing a plan with the allocated funding.

Salary Increases
One of the most contentious items in the new budget was a salary increase of 26%—or $44,000 per year—that Mayor Erin Mendenhall proposed for herself. This means her salary now sits at $211,765.

"I think it's disgusting that the mayor asked for a 26% wage increase for herself," Kniazeva said. "To ask for that in the face of the worst human rights crisis that we've seen in our city with people dying."

Kniazeva wasn't alone in her opposition. Scores of public comments, written and received live at City Council meetings, were highly critical of the proposed salary increase. Jaycee Miller, a Salt Lake City resident, said she doesn't just disagree with large pay raises but also with the way the City Council's salaries are dependent on the Mayor's.

City code states that salaries for Council Members must be 25% of the Mayor's compensation. This means the Council, too, will see a pay raise with this new budget. Their salaries will increase from $42,017 to $52,941.

"The existing salaries for Council members are not a living wage alone in this city, which creates barriers as to who can afford the privilege of running for and sitting on the Council, and who can dedicate their focus to serving the community they are elected to represent," Miller shared via email.

She argued that while the City considers holding a position on the City Council to be a part-time job, Council Members more often than not have to work more than 20 hours a week. Their pay should reflect that, Millser said.

"My issue with the proposed budget is the de jure linking of the salary changes for elected positions that are already orders of magnitude different because it disproportionately benefits the Mayoral position," Miller explained.

Over the past several years, the mayor and Council have seen small pay raises with each new budget. In the 2024 fiscal year budget, the Mayor's salary rose by about $6,000 and the Council's by about $2,000.

"This compensation adjustment addresses a pay disparity both in comparison to cities and towns in the state and within Salt Lake City Corporation," Andrew Wittenberg, the mayor's spokesperson, shared over email. "This position has not received a market rate adjustment in at least 10 years. Among SLC Corporation director and cabinet-level positions, the current base pay for the position of mayor is near the bottom, at 16 of 17."

Wages for city employees of all levels are evaluated and adjusted yearly as a part of the budget process. There are several categories of salary adjustments. This year, all city employees saw a pay increase of at least 5% to compensate for higher costs of living.


Some positions also saw market-based adjustments, which are "for employees who lag local market pay rates by 2% or more as reported by the Citizens Compensation Advisory Committee or CCAC annually," Salt Lake City budget analysts explained over email.

Wittenberg said that even with the pay increase, there will be six city department directors earning a higher salary than the Mayor.

The General Employee Pay Plan adopted alongside the budget every year includes a table of salaries corresponding to city positions of different ranks. The top salary category ranges from $123,566 minimum to $400,887 maximum.

Thirteen city positions fall into this highest pay ranking, including the City Attorney, Executive Director of the City Council Office and the Chief of Staff in the Mayor's Office.

According to data from Transparent Utah, from 2015 to 2022 (excluding data from 2018 that is not available) the Executive Director of Airports earned the highest wage of all city employees. In 2022, the position earned $329,011.

"This proposal would bring the mayor's pay to 9th among Salt Lake City's own cabinet and to 9th among other city leaders in Utah," Wittenberg said.

Capital Improvement Projects
Every year, the Council approves funds for the Capital Improvement Program, or CIP, as part of the budget adoption process. Later this summer, the Council will allocate CIP funds to specific projects after receiving public comments and conducting deliberations throughout July and August.

The Council must adopt project-specific funding by September 1. The CIP fund this year stands at $58.1 million, which is $18 million more than was allocated last year. City departments and constituents can submit CIP project proposals.

"This year, the Finance Department did put a focus on assets that already existed that needed improvements versus brand new assets," Jenny Bonk, a member of the Community Development and Capitol Improvement Program Advisory Board, or CDCIP, explained.

That board, composed of Salt Lake citizens, reviews project proposals and recommends funding for individual projects. The Mayor then receives the board's recommendations to consider when constructing the budget proposal.

"We received 72 applications this year," Rachel Molinari, CIP manager, said during a June 6 budget briefing on the program. "Thirty-two of those were internal, 40 of those were [proposed by] constituents."

Out of the 72 applications submitted to the CIP board, 31 have been recommended for funding, with 9 of the recommended projects submitted by constituents. Many of the recommended projects focus on maintenance.

Some of the larger projects recommended for funding include a Jordan River bridge reconstruction across 400 South, which was given $4 million in recommended funds.

Another project called Complete Streets Reconstruction 2025 was recommended for $3.5 million in funding.

"This annual program funds the vital reconstruction of deteriorated city streets," the project's description reads, "including street pavement, curb and gutter, sidewalk, drainage improvements as necessary, and appropriate complete streets bicycle and pedestrian access improvements."

Streets that might see reconstruction under this project include 1300 East between 2100 South and the southern city border, and 600/700 North between 800 West and Redwood Road.

The Council also added $2 million in CIP funds to be allocated to the Livable Streets Program, which is focused on traffic calming on residential streets. This program was not recommended for funding by the Mayor or CDCIP Board.

Another $15 million was added to the CIP fund thanks to a budget amendment for fiscal year 2024 that the Council adopted in early June. These funds will be allocated to deferred maintenance projects.

Legislative Intent
The Council adopted a handful of legislative intentions, or statements that direct department action, to pursue in the upcoming fiscal year. One of these is to study the options for shifting electric vehicle charging stations from a free city service to a paid service run by a contractor.

Councilmember Dan Dugan explained how he thinks the shift would relieve the City of some financial burdens, like paying for the electricity that runs the charging stations. The saved money could then be used for maintenance projects.

"I drive an EV car and I'm very appreciative of the free charging stations that the city provides across the city. They're wonderful," Dugan said during a council work session on May 30. "I'm at the point where I think we should no longer provide the free charging and turn it over to a third-party contractor who runs it."

The Council also approved an intent to assess the water quality of the Jordan River. They appointed the Sustainability Department to facilitate conversations about the river with other local, state and federal agencies.

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