As a city council, one thing we continually grapple with is how to deal with competing priorities when it comes to spending the funds available in the city budget. Now, one thing I always keep in mind when dealing with the $159 MILLION dollar city budget is that those are mainly made up of tax dollars. That’s money that you surrender to the city either when you buy something or when you make your house payment. It’s a dime here and a dollar there, but it’s a lot of money when you add it all up. And the more I’ve thought about this, the more I have kept one thing in mind when dealing with the city budget.

The most important thing that the citizens of the city can spend their tax dollars on is public safety.

Did you get that? Let me say it one more time.

The most important thing that the citizens of the city can spend their tax dollars on is public safety.

Now, there’s a lot in that statement, so let me break this down. First, I’ve already covered the fact that the dollars being spent are your dollars. Secondly, it’s you who gets to decide where that money goes. You elect representatives (me and six others) who ultimately are responsible for directing the spending of that money, so it’s vital that you understand the guiding principles of those you elect. And you have direct contact with those representatives. To pass a budget, the city council holds at least two public hearings. Good representatives will also reach out to their constituents via social media or some other forum to get their thoughts on the proposed budget. And you get to give input. This year, for the first time ever, the finance staff at city hall was gracious enough to put together some easy-to-read infographics to help you understand where the money goes.

As is easily seen in these graphics, police and fire consume the majority of the city’s general fund. I beleive this is the way it should be. Like I already said, this is the most important thing the citizens of the city can spend their tax dollars on.

So then what happens when the police department or the fire department is understaffed? Should the city go straight to the public and ask for more tax dollars to spend? As you can see from the graphic, police and fire consume about 57% of the city general fund budget. If it is true that the city should spend money first on police and fire, then there is 43% of the city budget that, theoretically, the police and fire department could lay claim to before the city would “need” a tax increase.

Now of course, it’s not that simple. The city needs roads, the residents want parks, there are bond payments that must be made, etc. But I believe it is disingenuous for the city to ask the residents for more money for more firefighters or new police cars or whatever without first looking at the other 43% of the budget and finding places where expenses can be deferred, departments can operate leaner, and you can do more with less. Then, when everything has been trimmed as far as is feasible under the circumstances, we can talk about tax increases necessary to pay for the lowest budget priorities. This year, by careful budgeting as well as a cooperative arrangement with Jordan School District, we were able to add three new police officers without raising taxes. It can be done. We can do it again when it’s necessary.

This is responsible budgeting. Public safety has to come first, and the city council is responsible for being frugal with your tax dollars.