Salt Lake City Council will postpone vote on sales tax hike for two weeks

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, center, with City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall, met with The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board April 11, 2018, to discuss a proposed city sales tax increase and bond issue for city roads. Joining them are, at far left, City Councilman Chris Wharton, and members of the mayor’s administration and council staff.

The Salt Lake City Council will postpone Tuesday’s expected vote on a half-penny sales tax increase in order to spend another couple weeks looking at where that new money will go.

The delay comes in response to one councilman’s insistence that the council has not done enough due diligence to ensure that the funds will be spent as outlined.

“What we have is a presentation from the administration as to what their recommendations are,” Councilman Charlie Luke said Monday. “What we haven’t done is discuss as a council if that actually is the direction we want to go.”

The sales tax increase of 0.5 percent, or five cents for every $10 spent, is projected to bring in an additional $33 million annually. Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s administration, with the council’s backing, has earmarked specific portions of that increase for four priority areas: $5 million for road repair, $5 million for affordable housing support, $12 million for more police, and $8 million for public transit improvements, with the remaining $3 million going into reserve.

Those outlays have been mentioned in various public discussions dating to the fall, when the council took action on housing and transit master plans and approved hiring 50 new police officers. The figure on roads spending was included in a study released in January.

Luke has not opposed either the sales tax increase or the city’s spending priorities. But in comments he first posted Friday on Facebook, he said the council had not taken steps to guarantee that revenue will not be “reappropriated to other future needs or priorities.”

Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said Monday the council would reschedule its vote on the sales tax for May 1 to allow for more council discussion that makes the spending commitments “as bound as they can possibly be.” A council public hearing on the sales tax will be held as planned Tuesday.

Mendenhall said she would also schedule a public discussion next week with business owners who have asked for more dialogue on the tax increase.

The new date for the sales-tax vote is also the day the mayor will unveil her budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

City sales tax would rise to 7.35 percent under the increase. A two-week delay in approving it means approximately $1.35 million less in sales tax for the coming fiscal year.

A second spending initiative would ask voters to approve an $87 million bond in November for a broader, multi-year road rebuilding effort. Resident surveys by the city have shown high support for both the tax and bond proposals.

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