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West Valley City Journal

Councilmember requests city staff propose budget cuts

Mar 31, 2023 02:54PM ● By Travis Barton

In an effort to ensure the city budget is “more thoughtful,” Councilmember Scott Harmon requested city administration propose budget reduction options. 

The proposals would essentially facilitate a deeper cost-benefit analysis, he said during a February West Valley City Council meeting. 

“We have costs that keep going up and up and up,” Harmon said during the meeting. “So do we keep pushing that onto the taxpayer and increasing taxes every couple years, or do we figure out maybe we don’t need some of these services and pare some of those down so we don’t have to increase taxes every couple years.” 

City Manager Wayne Pyle said that is already done every year internally. He added prices have gone up, pointing to utilities as an example. 

In wanting to clarify the request from Harmon, Pyle used the general fund as an example that of the over $100 million budget, $87 million is personnel, at least $10 million is debt service and fixed payments and other fixed operational costs such as insurance, gas and power. 

By the time you reach operational costs that can vary, “it’s not very much,” he said. 

Any “significant” proposals, Pyle said when pressed by Harmon, would mean cutting the city employees. 

Mayor Karen Lang was in favor combing the budget. “There’s different things that when you dig down in the weeds, there can be savings that aren’t as obvious at first glance.” 

Councilman Lars Nordfelt was quick to point out that property taxes, a third of the city’s revenue, is a stable revenue source while sales tax, another third, can fluctuate. He added it would be a mistake to not keep up with services and the budget by increasing that revenue stream when needed.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t look for ways to reduce but saying we don’t need to increase taxes every couple years is not a good strategy unless we want to cut services that are needed and desired,” he said. 

Harmon, who voted against the tax increase last year, said he wants to put the reduction possibilities on the table so “that we have an idea of what we could do.” 

“I’m just saying we need to be more thoughtful on our services and our discussion with the budget so that we can feel good about raising taxes when we do,” he said. 

Typically, the council will hear reports from each department of the city throughout December and January before holding an all-day strategic priorities meeting in February. Based on those discussions, city administration then puts together a budget for the council to look through in anticipation of its passage in June or, in the case of a tax increase, in August. 

The council opted against the strategic priorities meeting this year in favor of covering all its desired topics during study meetings, held every Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in City Hall. 

Last year, the council voted 5-2 to increase property taxes, which came about due to the city’s police retention efforts. After Salt Lake City announced a 20% salary increase for police officers, Taylorsville creating its own department offering higher pay for its officers and the national narrative around law enforcement in recent years, city staff estimated it could lose about 25 officers. The council agreed to a pay raise to match SLC costing about $3.3 million.

Pyle said at the time they left “no stone unturned” and even found other funding to cover separate increases, due to increasing costs in materials, fuel etc., to limit the tax increase. 

Harmon was one of the dissenting votes noting he wanted further discussion on cuts and program modifications. 

In February he said, “I’d rather us look at options and opportunities to reduce the budget so that we can” avoid raising taxes every year.