ST. GEORGE- St. George City Council slashed $2.2 million from its 2023 budget Thursday night so that a balanced state budget mandate can be met. The cuts come following the council’s vote against a public safety property tax hike proposal last week that left a hole in the city’s $500 million budget that the council had until 1st September to fill.
“We’re under fire to get this through today,” Councilman Jimmie Hughes said.
Among the items cut from the budget were an $850,000 contribution to the Sugarloaf Interpretive Trail, $500,000 for the renovation of Bloomington Hills Park, and a combined $100,200 for a ticket office and new lighting at the Electric Theater. The city will also withdraw from sponsoring the St. George area economic summit next year for $62,000.
The majority of items removed from the 2023 budget came from a list compiled by councilor Gregg McArthur that matched many items that other council members had on their own lists.
Some items he listed retained funding because council members said they needed to be funded for the health and safety of St. George residents.
One such item was the Sandtown Park restroom, which Mayor Michelle Randall said was in disrepair. Funds that would have been for the Electric Theater lights and box office were transferred to the restrooms.
The $3 million the property tax would have generated was intended to help fund the first two years of the city’s Safe St. George Plan, a five-year initiative that paid for new police, firefighters and dispatchers as well as public safety facilities and vehicles. . The overall $90 million cost of the plan was covered except for the $3 million the city wanted to use property taxes for.
It was hoped that $2 million of the additional $3 million in property tax revenue would fund the second year of the plan in addition to the first.
The first year of the public safety plan should see pay increases for public safety personnel and the hiring of new employees as well.
“At a minimum, it needs to be $1 million,” Deputy City Manager Deanna Brklacich said, referring to the size of the hole in the budget that needed to be filled to balance it.
This hole was filled twice by McArthur’s proposed $2.2 million cuts. However, Councilwoman Michelle Tanner said the city should cut more items from the budget.
“We are committed to funding the first two years of the public safety plan,” she said. “I think we should.”
Among the items Tanner suggested cutting from the budget were trips to out-of-town conferences for which the city set aside $38,000. She also asked if the city’s annual $85,000 to the League of Cities and Towns of Utah was necessary.
“Absolutely necessary,” said Mayor Michele Randall, who asked Shawn Guzman, the city’s director of government affairs, to detail the city’s relationship with the League.
“The League has been very good to us,” Guzman said of how the League has acted as an advocacy and lobbying group for the city with the Utah Legislature. Often, Northern Utah lawmakers tend to forget that the state is more than the Wasatch Front and the League helps them remember that, he said.
“We have their ear and they protect our interests,” he said.
As the budget discussion continued, Hughes confirmed to city staff that council could come back to the budget later and modify it with further cuts. He suggested the board take this course because they had a state-imposed deadline to meet.
Ultimately, McArthur introduced a motion to pass the revised 2023 budget with $3 million from the failed property tax increase and $2.2 million from cut items to cover it.
The motion passed 3-1 with Michelle Tanner dissenting. Councilor Danielle Larkin was not present at the meeting.
“We’ve now funded a year of the public safety plan,” Tanner said, adding that while she was happy about it, there were many more budget items she would like to see discussed and cut. However, as no one else on council was likely to agree with her, she said, she opted not to delay the vote and gave the motion a ‘no’ to pass. .
Other fiscal and revenue-generating items Tanner mentioned involved selling a city-owned golf course and charging extra fees to nonresidents to use city facilities like the Sand Hollow Aquatic Center.
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