Salt Lake City’s parking compliance officers have written 40,000 fewer tickets this year and collections from overtime fees are down $1.2 million, the result of a staffing shortage made worse after four officers were fired for not writing tickets in exchange for free food.

The difference — a drop of more than a third in both tickets and collections — has the potential to punch a small hole in the proposed $275.5 million budget for next year. If the city opts to reduce next year’s projected revenue for collections, it must cut spending by the same amount.

The City Council, beginning its review of Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s budget proposal, called out the shortfall during a revenue briefing Tuesday. The year-to-year discrepancy between projected and actual parking fine collections “stands out,” Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said later.

“Our finance department has been fairly spot on with projections and actuals over the years, but this is one of the few areas that has been consistently lower than projected,” Mendenhall said Wednesday. “We understand there’s a lot of reasons for that, but the definition of insanity is to repeat the past and expect something different.”

Parking-ticket income has bounced around in recent years along with ticket issuance. Amid those fluctuations, actual collections have consistently run below projections. In 2015, for example, the city anticipated an $845,000 extra windfall when overtime parking fines were raised. But overall ticket-writing was down that year and the extra money never came.

Ticket-writing reached a high the following year, in 2016, with nearly 130,000 tickets issued and collections topping $3 million. But so far this year, just over 90,000 tickets have been issued. Revenue, budgeted at a little under $4 million for the year, is projected to come in around $2.7 million.

Tickets for expired meters cost $25 if paid within 20 days, $65 if paid within 20-40 days, and $105 if paid after that.

The compliance unit has been down seven of 20 officers, one of two supervisors, and an office technician, and is currently without a director. A new director hired in 2017 left during his initial probationary period. The city is cutting the vacant supervisor position and one compliance officer position in the coming year.

Four compliance officers were fired in December after an investigation found they were not writing tickets, or voiding ones that had been issued, outside a downtown pizzeria in exchange for free food. The scheme, discovered last August, apparently went on for at least two years.

After the dismissals, the city moved to limit how much discretion parking officers have to dismiss tickets and barred them from voiding tickets issued by other officers.

City finance officials noted the staffing shortages in their revenue presentation to the council Tuesday. Parking officers typically write 12,000 to 15,000 tickets a month, but their current output is less than half that, and the city has had trouble filling vacancies.

The city slightly lowered its collection projection for next year based on the impact of a state law change that bars local governments from assigning quotas for ticket-writing. But it otherwise hopes to see both tickets and collections bounce back.

“They do expect to fill those positions and be fully staffed next year,” Lisa Packwood, the city’s director of revenue and collections, told council members Tuesday. “We’re hoping that their budget will come in a little better next year.”

Mayoral spokesman Matt Rojas said the city plans to hire two compliance officers every four weeks until the team is back at full strength. The officers need four weeks to be trained before going into the field.