Could cities have done more to help floundering businesses and cash-strapped residents?

When annual tax revenue came in this spring, the numbers showed a surprisingly positive outlook. Utah cities and towns, with the exception of resorts and oil towns, made millions in sales tax revenues. This profit, combined with an infusion of federal funds, allows cities to invest in one-off projects and cover their payrolls.

An investigation by 2News found that there are no tax breaks for Utahns.

The last one standing up: How an artisanal pizzeria survived the pandemic

“My three neighbors are all restaurants and have ceased business. So there are four of us and I’m the only one who’s still here, “said Jared Nieswender.

The owner of Mozz, an artisanal pizzeria in downtown Provo, said he had to lay off all of its staff last year. He, his wife and his head chef kept the restaurant open and only offered take-away.

The financial consequences were devastating.

We lost between 60 and 80 percent of our sales.

With no PPP and no grant, Nieswender claims his business, like many of his neighbors along University Avenue, will be closed.

Digital Exclusive: Mozz owner informs himself about security gaps of restaurant employees during COVID

“They gave us some heat lamps to put on our patio so we could still try to sit outside,” said Nieswinder, adding that he wasn’t expecting anything from the city one way or another.

“Other than that, there wasn’t much of the city that I know of. At least that affected me directly. “

As companies falter, local governments invest and expand

Both state legislation and state city councils actually saw better-than-expected numbers during the pandemic, “says Cameron Diehl, executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

A 2News investigation found cities were closing and Utahn’s job was losing. Cities made millions in profits and gave their employees pay rises. They also granted bonuses.

The 249 parishes in Utah cut their budgets last year to anticipate record losses, Diehl says.

Sales tax revenue typically makes up about 30 percent of a city’s general fund. Unlike property taxes and other stable sources of income, sales tax fluctuates depending on the economy.

2News Investigates learned that major Utah cities had no drop in sales tax revenues during the pandemic. Instead, revenue boomed as Utahns bought goods online.

How a mayor split a city budget

“First and foremost, I wanted to ask you if you can take us back to last year in how the city prepared for the potential economic deficit related to COVID,” asked Wendy Halloran, investigative reporter at 2News.

I use the term surgically.

Provo mayor Michelle Kaufusi says she has not fired anyone or on leave. Instead, she introduced a hiring freeze.

My directors went to work and I asked them to cut 1.5 percent of their budget, with the exception of fire and police. “

According to the mayor, Provo ultimately made money from sales tax revenues during the pandemic.

We are up 8.3 percent since the start of the year, and a year ago we were at 5.6 this time and two years at 3.2. We saw this trajectory move upwards.

Most of the CARES Act money Provo received went to the police and fire departments.

The Financial Success of Utah Cities: A Collapse

2News Investigates found that the city also granted its employees a 2.5 percent performance increase. Provo wasn’t alone. Salt Lake, Ogden, and St. George also gave millions of dollars in earnings increases to city employees.

In addition, Utah’s cities received millions of dollars in CARES Act funding.

Through inquiries for public records, the 2News Investigative Team found that Provo had received $ 8.4 million in CARES Act funding. St. George and Ogden received $ 7.6 million and $ 7.4 million, respectively. Salt Lake City was by far the most given at $ 19.2 million.

The Utah League of Cities and Towns confirmed that all municipalities in Utah received a certain amount of CARES Act funds, one of the few states that did.

We haven’t turned down a single company, “adds Kaufusi.” Every company that applied received some money from the CARES Act.

Cities and towns cannot use federal funds from the CARES Act or the American Rescue Plan to directly or indirectly lower taxes. However, you can use the money to provide other forms of help, especially for businesses.

2News Investigates found that other cities across the country, such as Albuquerque, Houston and Jacksonville, Florida, were offering pandemic relief, including city-funded stimulus payments to residents. None of the Utah cities offered such payments.

Kaufusi defends the performance improvements and argues that it was a responsible move.

If I had to dive into my rainy day fund, I was okay to do that.

“You know, I would also like to see money put in the city just for general purposes, beautification, parks and street repairs, whatever,” says Nieswinder.

Provo City told 2News that they plan to use the one-time federal funding from the CARES bill for “generational projects” like public parks and a new fire station.

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