Capital projects, public safety among priorities for St. George’s proposed $519M budget

In this file photo, the “D” on the Black Hill as seen from downtown St. George, Utah, June 3, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — With a proposed budget of $519.9 million, responding to continuing growth through investing in capital projects, public safety and core services are priorities for the city of St. George for the coming 2024 fiscal year.

Stock image | St. George News

“Planning for and responding to growth continues to be a significant theme for the city as we have been found and people are moving here for the exceptional quality of life, natural beauty of the area, and friendly people,” St. George City Manager John Willis wrote in the budget’s introductory summary.

“Public infrastructure and maintaining and improving core services are two of the top primary priority areas set by the City Council for the upcoming fiscal year. Public safety is one of the other top priority areas set by the City Council.”

The proposed budget, which was adopted by the St. George City Council in early May for both councilor and public review, is projected to be $519.9 million. This is an increase of $18.5 million, or 3.7%, over last year’s budget.

In addition to the capital projects and investments in public safety, Willis noted the budget has been built “under the backdrop of continued significant economic uncertainty with a myriad of economic challenges” that includes “historically high inflation.” This has led to city staff striving to craft a budget that is considered “conservative and resourceful given this backdrop,” he wrote.

As the 2024 fiscal year starts July 1, Utah law requires municipalities to have their budgets adopted before or on June 30, yet also be subject to public hearing prior to adoption.

The city of St. George will be holding two public hearings for the proposed budget during City Council meetings this Thursday, June 1, and June 15 at 5 p.m. as a part of their regular council meetings. The budget is typically adopted by the City Council following the second public hearing.

Capital investment and project highlights

The capital investment portion of the budget comes in at $126.7 million, with the overall capital projects fund portion of the budget being around $186.5 million, or 36%. This includes transportation, utility infrastructure, staffing and equipment. Projects being funded for the year are either new or continuing ones that carry over year-to-year until their completion.

Among the major and minor capital projects the city will fund over the next year are continuing road and parks projects, work at the St. George Regional Airport, new fire stations, a new reservoir and water infrastructure improvements.

File photo of road construction on 3000 East in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Dixie Regional Transportation Expo, St. George News

Road-related projects set for the coming fiscal year include the extension of George Washington Boulevard (1450 South) from River Road to Crosby Way for $11 million, the continuing 3000 East widening project for $9.3 million, road and bridge improvements for $6.2 million, the state Route 7/Exit 5 interchange for $3.5 million, pavement improvement management for $3 million, and $1.8 million for five-six new traffic signals across the city, among other projects.

SunTran, the city’s transit service, has a budget of $15 million and is mostly funded through federal grants that can cover 50-80% of the operating and capital overlay cost. Of this, $6.3 million is set for a new transit center for the new St. George-to-Springdale route, with an additional $3.3 going toward five new 35-foot-long diesel buses. Another three buses are also being recommended for purchase to accommodate future transit expansion in Washington City, Ivins and the Fort. Pierce industrial area in St. George.

Anticipated improvements at the St. George Regional Airport include the south apron and taxiway project for $5.3 million and the terminal apron expansion and construction project for $12.3 million.

Water infrastructure projects of note include new and replacement water tanks for $8.5 million, the Graveyard Wash Reservoir project for $5.9 million, and the Phase 2 expansion for the city’s wastewater treatment plant for $1.8 million.

In this file photo, a rendering of a proposed design for the new St. George Town Hall to be built on Main Street across from the Town Square shared with the St. George City Council, St. George, Utah, Dec. 8, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

There are also “a number of significant park system improvements” listed in the 2024 budget. This includes $2.2 million for the Virgin River South Trail, $1 million for the Pioneer Park Interpretive Trail project, $800,000 for Royal Oaks and Mathis Park, $445,000 for a replacement of the pavilion at JC Snow Park and $229,000 for city poll slide and deck repairs. These projects are being funded through impact fees, the RAP tax and the city’s general fund.

An expansion of the Tonaquint Cemetery is set for $2.9 million and includes the addition of 1,000 uprights and 2,000 flat plots with over 1,000 cremation plots.

Other projects of note include the new city hall and accompanying parking structure to be built on Main Street. This includes the renovation of the existing City Offices and police headquarters on 200 East set for the 2025 fiscal year. The combined cost of these projects is $41.5 million with funding consisting of a $20 million bond and available fund balance.

Public Safety highlights

The 2024 budget recommends funding public safety to the amount of $46.6 million, or 44%, of the general fund. This is an estimated $6.4 million increase over last year, according to the budget’s summary letter. Outside the general fund, an additional $17.8 million from across the budget’s various funds is also being put toward public safety.

Public safety projects to be funded include the hiring of 26 new public safety personnel – police officers, firefighters and civilian personnel and the purchase of related vehicles, as well as the building of two new fire stations.

Stock image for illustrative purposes only showing St. George Police at a scene in St. George, Utah, Nov. 19, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

A breakdown of this includes $12.2 million for the new Fire Department headquarters (Station 1) on 400 East, $6.4 million for the building of Fire Station 10 in the Desert Canyons area, $1.7 million for the replacement of 27 police vehicles, $1.2 million for a new fire engine, $336,000 for a new armored vehicle for police, $168,000 for new pistols for police, as well as many other public safety-related items included a replacement fire engine and 10 new public safety vehicles for the police.

General Fund

The general fund, which is largely used to fund city services such as public safety, parks and recreation, land development and city administration, is projected to be around $108 million and is $6.4 million more than last year. It also makes up an estimated 21% of the 2024 budget. A large chunk of the general fund traditionally goes toward the city’s public safety services, which amounts to 44% in this case.

“The General Fund is funded through a mixture of sources including the city’s portion of the sales tax, the city’s portion of the property tax, franchise tax, overhead reimbursements from other funds, service charges, licenses & fees, and other revenues,” according to Willis’ budget summary letter.

The largest contributors to the revenue to the general fund tax-wise are the property and sales taxes the city collects.

Stock image, St. George News

Sales tax is estimated to make up 62% of taxes collected by the city in the pending budget, with property tax representing 20%. Overall, property and sales tax, along with franchise and innkeeper taxes, accounts for 57% of the general fund at a projected $61.4 million.

While St. George has seen positive growth year to date of 6.9% based on collections through April 2023, there are worries that economic uncertainty and the potential onset of a recession later this year will negatively impact continuing growth in this area. As for property taxes, the city is seeing an increase of 4.5% from last year.

No property tax increases are proposed for the 2024 budget. However, some utility services will see rate increases as the city deals with rising costs of operation.

Other sources of revenue that make up the general fund include city licenses and permits, fines and forfeitures, intergovernmental funds (federal and state grants, road taxes and so on), charges for services, and transfers from other city funds.

Other funds

Other funds that make up the proposed 2024 budget cover the city’s enterprise funds, which are sometimes referred to as proprietary funds. These funds are dedicated to city departments that can be thought of as being run in a businesslike manner, such as the water and power departments. These funds make up 35% of the proposed budget.

Other city funds include special revenue, debt services and internal services.

John Willis was officially appointed city manager at the St. George City Council meeting Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Planned with economic uncertainty in mind

“Current economic conditions are a bit of a mixed bag as a high level of uncertainty exists and talks of a recession persist,” Willis wrote in the budget’s summary letter. “Inflation continued to have a significant impact through all of 2022 into 2023 which has adversely impacted both our citizens in the cost of day-to-day goods, and also the City by driving up the cost of providing services.”

Willis also noted a drop in the city’s issuance of new residential building permits, as well as worries connected to the failure of the Silicon Valley Bank in March, “which is anticipated to tighten credit markets and adversely affect the economy.”

Inflation also continues to be an issue, which was over 8% for much of 2022 and has only recently begun to drop.

“Overall, while there are some positive indicators, there continues to be a high level of uncertainty due to inflation, interest rates, and recent national events,” Willis wrote. “Talks of a possible national recession have begun to grow again due to the large amount of uncertainty. Looking forward to the next fiscal year with these economic factors in mind, staff took a conservative approach in estimating revenues in determining available funding levels for City services.”

An online copy of the proposed budget can be found on the city of St. George’s website.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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