There may be few certainties one can count on in life, but one you can count on is Salt Lake City ranking as the worst (highest) overall tax burden on citizens every year on our published Cost of City Government report. The report ranks the major city governments in Utah according to the total tax and fee burden that is placed on citizens on a per capita basis.
As you can see, Salt Lake City soaks citizens for almost three times as much as the statewide average and far more than any other major city in the state.
So, it might not come as a surprise that, once again, the Mayor of Salt Lake City feels like it is time to raise property taxes as next year’s budget is considered. Salt Lake City is a prime example of what happens when the government is run by those that prioritize spending and are beholden to agendas that sound wonderful in the abstract, but get painfully expensive when they collide with reality.
To be fair, some argue that the increased daytime population in Salt Lake City requires much more of city government. However, does that justify a burden that is almost triple the average?
The property tax hike that is proposed is forecasted to raise $4.4 million in new revenue, costing the median priced homeowner in Salt Lake City $130 more per year on their tax bill. We believe that an honest look into the budget and proposed new spending would reveal plenty of ways to reduce spending in many areas and negate the need for a tax increase. While taxpayers are figuring out how to do more with less revenue, government can do the same.
For example, Salt Lake City is the only city in the entire state with an additional .50% in sales tax that is collected on all purchases. It is called the “Correctional Facility Tax” and was set up in recent years as the State Prison was moved to Salt Lake City. This extra tax now generates an additional $41.8 million per year for Salt Lake City, up from $25 million when it started four years ago. The city has directed that revenue to their “Funding Our Future” program which is supposed to go towards safer neighborhoods, improved streets, affordable housing and better transit. However, as anyone who lives or works in Salt Lake City knows, results in those areas are dismal. It is a prime example of government throwing more and more taxpayer money at a problem and not actually fixing the problem. A renewed look at the effectiveness of that $41.8 million in spending could easily mitigate the proposed property tax hike.
Overall, our analysis of the various line items of the proposed budget shows that most of the cost increases driving the need for higher taxes is coming from new staff. Whether it is additional personnel in established departments or new positions with new personnel in other departments, the trend of more and more government bloat seems to be the root cause of the problem. While some might find the efforts to solve many societal problems with city government admirable, they need to realize many of those efforts come at a steep cost. That cost is only funded by taxpayers.
There does not seem to be any indication that the current Mayor or City Council intend to change course on their path of more and more government spending, so taxpayers in Salt Lake City will either need to speak up or get used to it.