Salt Lake County Council follows McAdams' game plan
The Salt Lake County Council stuck pretty closely to Democratic Mayor Ben McAdams' proposed $870 million budget for 2014, one that doesn't require a tax increase.
It even found more money for the criminal justice system Tuesday in tentatively adopting a budget that will be the subject of a Dec. 10 public hearing.
The Republican-majority council's budget includes added requests for:
• Three prosecutors in the county district attorney's office.
• A warrant specialist for the sheriff's office to handle extradition requests and other paperwork involving inmates in county jails.
• Funding to partially restore health care benefits cut during the recession for the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association.
Council members struggled to find a means of paying for these additions without raising the budget's bottom line or leaving the county vulnerable to tax increases in a couple of years.
They spent more than an hour debating whether to reduce McAdams' recommendation to restore $273,000 to a "Healthy Lifestyle" wellness program for county employees.
But on a 5-4 vote in which Republican Councilman David Wilde broke party ranks and sided with the council's four Democrats, the program survived attempts to divert its funding to the criminal-justice hires. County Health Department Executive Director Gary Edwards had argued the program would save money long term by reducing county workers' health-insurance claims.
Republican Richard Snelgrove attempted to come up with funding for the district attorney and sheriff's positions by axing the mayor's proposal of $300,000 to set up a 311 phone system that is supposed to direct callers to the right government agency when some type of service is needed.
McAdams resisted that cut, which he said would have broached a pledge to use money from a particular account for projects that impact residents across the county. The mayor prevailed.
Democratic Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw came up with the ultimate solution. County departments next year will not be allowed to shift funding from open personnel positions to operational budgets or capital construction projects, a tightening of the screws that county Finance DirectorDarrin Casper said could free up more than $1 million.
After some teeth-gnashing, the council unanimously agreed this was a budget they could present to the public (Wilde abstained because he is leaving the council to join the district attorney's office).
McAdams agreed, while noting ruefully he rejected more than $20 million worth of legitimate funding requests from department managers and the county's independently elected officials.
"We operate in a world where we can't do everything we want," he said.
Still, the key provisions laid out in McAdams' Oct. 29 budget proposal survived council review without much trouble. Unless changes are made after the public hearing, the 2014 budget will:
• Provide $5.8 million to buy land for an operations center for public works and parks and recreation departments.
• Give employees a 2.5 percent pay raise, the first since 2009. The budget also fully restores retirement benefits cut during the recession and adds autism coverage to health-insurance plans.
• Provide funding to help cities link existing networks of trails and bike routes.
• Expand the county's involvement in boosting pre- and after-school programs, moving into the Sandy/White City area in partnership with Canyons School District and the state Department of Workforce Services. Â
Civilians and sworn officers in the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office will get to vote Dec. 13-17 on whether to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The employee union had gathered cards of support from more than 50 percent of the sheriff's office workers eligible to join. But on a straight party vote, the Republican-majority County Council decided 5-4 that the "card count" was not enough to determine the outcome. A secret ballot was more appropriate, the council said.
For the integrity of the process and the privacy rights of our county employees, it's only natural and fair that we ask for a secret election," said Councilman Richard Snelgrove.
Added David Wilde: "The idea of a secret ballot is as American as apple pie."