Salt Lake City Council ready to spend more than Becker
Parking, parks, streets and sidewalks.
That's the stuff of city budgets, often dry but sometimes red hot.
After a grueling seven weeks of poring over Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's proposed $204.3 million budget, the City Council is poised Tuesday to adopt its version of the spending plan.
The council's budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1, clocks in at $205.8 million, $1.5 million higher than the mayor's proposal. As of now, the council's budget outlines increased spending on streets, parks and zoning enforcement, compared with Becker's blueprint.
Most of the difficult decisions have been made with one exception: Whether to close the Jordan River Par-3 Golf Course, as Becker recommended. That call may be a year away as the council weighs the course's value against costs to keep it open.
The most significant deviation from the mayor's plan is $888,549 the council added to the Capital Improvements Project (CIP) fund, which pays for upgrades to streets, sidewalks, storm sewers and the like.
Becker had proposed $16.8 million in CIP spending, down from the 2011-12 budget of $19.6 million.
The decline in spending troubled the council, said Chairman Soren Simonsen.
"Cuts in capital needs have been a way to balance the budget," he said. "But it can create a budget crisis down the road. It's penny-wise and pound foolish."
The additional funding comes from growth in property tax revenue and payment of back property taxes. Simonsen said he also would like upticks in sales tax revenue to be funneled into CIP.
A little known but important aspect of the CIP budget is the council's decision to launch a study to determine if construction projects are being managed efficiently, said Councilman Carlton Christensen. Better management of capital projects, he said, could lead to significant savings.
The council also added $219,000 to the mayor's $6.3 million budget for park maintenance. The public services budget has been cut during the past three to four years of a down economy.
"There is a recognition that our parks have suffered," Christensen said. "This is a symbolic gesture, if nothing else, that we've let them go too far."
The council also pumped back into the budget $110,000 for two zoning enforcement officers. There already is too little zoning enforcement, Christensen said. "We're trying to be a little more proactive."
The most debated budget topic was curbside parking downtown. The council adopted Becker's proposal to raise rates from $1.50 to $2 an hour and to extend parking meter hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. The council went further, however, and eliminated free Christmas holiday streetside parking.
Freshman Councilman Charlie Luke was the sole "no" vote on those proposals. "I hope to be proven wrong on parking," he said. "But I still have a very serious concern."
Parking • Ups rates to $2 per hour, extends enforcement hours to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, eliminates free Christmas parking.
Capital improvements • Adds $888,549 to mayor's budget for street, sidewalk and other improvements.
Parks • Increases mayor's parks budget by $219,000.
Zoning • Adds $110,000 for two enforcement officers, whom the mayor had planned to cut.
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