SL County mayor proposes public safety funding increase but promises no tax hike

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams proposed his annual budget promising no tax hikes while also boosting funding for public safety.

"My proposal is a structurally balanced budget that is fiscally sound and no tax increase," he said Tuesday, unveiling his 2019 budget proposals to the county council.

The county's overall budget is about $1.5 billion that has to be passed by the council.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams proposes his 2019 budget. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The mayor's proposed budget includes a $3.4 million boost to public safety funding to keep more officers on the payroll and $1.3 million to keep the Oxbow Jail open. It was an idea the county council largely supports.

"The number one priority we hear from our residents is public safety," said Salt Lake County Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton. "They want safe neighborhoods. They want to feel like criminals are locked up. We also like to look at that balance between substance abuse and mental health resources as well."

The mayor touted improvements in the criminal justice system as a result of Operation Rio Grande, including more substance abuse treatment beds.

Sheriff Rosie Rivera said she was glad to hear of an increase in funding to retain deputies. She said wages must be competitive. The mayor also backed Sheriff Rivera's push to lower the age they can hire someone to work in a jail from 21 to 18.

"It's not something we're just going to throw them in our max environment, but there are jobs in the jail an 18-year-old can do," the sheriff said.

In his speech Tuesday, the mayor also endorsed a bill being sponsored by Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, that would allow someone to expunge their criminal records if enough time has gone by. He pointed out Danette Young, who sat in the audience and recently took advantage of a program to have a 20-year-old drug conviction expunged.

Young said the drug conviction hanging over her head impacted her ability to buy a home and she eventually went into business for herself when no one would hire her.

"There are people just like me that have been held back from going on with their life, and it really is something I am so thankful the mayor implemented," she said.

The mayor proposed cutting security at the county government complex to save money, but spend some to add trails in the Salt Lake Valley, build more recreation centers and libraries and invest in the arts.

A tax hike being off the table is no surprise given that it's an election year. Mayor McAdams is challenging incumbent Republican Congresswoman Mia Love in the 4th District. He's faced criticism for taking credit for lowering the tax rate.

The mayor on Tuesday called the low tax rate an example of fiscal responsibility. The council chairwoman suggested it was naturally occurring as property values rise.

"We didn't necessarily do anything to lower the tax rate over the years," Winder Newton said. "It just naturally happens."

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