While just mentioning the word budget usually elicits yawns, the Salt Lake City Council's budget adoption session Tuesday night had the makings of a good Hollywood script.
In an epic that lasted as long as the "Ten Commandments," Mayor Palmer DePaulis fought like a bulldog to preserve a surprise windfall of $270,000. A group of angry American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union members showed up to protest a proposed 2 percent pay increase and compensation plan that would go in effect if a contract isn't signed.Tax-busting Councilwoman Roselyn Kirk missed getting her way by one vote. And Councilman Tom Godfrey turned out to be a sort of hero on a white horse by crafting a compromise that broke an impasse and led the way to adoption of an $86.3 million general-fund budget.
It was one of those nights when the unexpected happened. The discovery of a surprise $270,000 extra in property taxes on Friday from Salt Lake County threw a wrench into what some observers had said would be a predictable majority vote to approve most elements of the $297.6 million budget without change.
However, given the extra tax money and an additional $227,000 surplus in the general fund created by charging a new garbage fee, some council members, including Ron Whitehead, Don Hale and Kirk, wanted to spend much of the surplus to reduce a property tax hike planned to pay for 46 new police officers.
About two hours and 45 minutes into the meeting, after union protests and approval of a library tax increase and 46 new police officers, Kirk offered the motion - spend an extra $467,500 to reduce a $2.1 million tax increase.
DePaulis, whom one staffer characterized as "fighting like a bulldog" against such a plan all night, told Kirk that the council would be simply giving residents an "illusion" of a tax break. He said he would need money to finish contract talks with unions and, because part of the funds are "one-time money," it would cause a deficit in future budgets.
The tension increased as Councilwoman Nancy Pace said that some council members were bargaining away responsible government.
"People are buying their own political futures," she said.
A voice vote was taken with a 4-3 result. Kirk, Whitehead and Hale supported, but were outnumbered by Council Chairman Alan Hardman, Godfrey, Pace and Councilman Wayne Horrocks.
After another alternative motion failed because of a lack of a second, Godfrey went to work - extracting from each of the council members what was holding them back from a decision.
Godfrey then got the council to call a recess and he ran out of the council chambers with members of the mayor's budget staff. Other council members sat in their chairs at the rostrum as DePaulis went at them again.
When Godfrey emerged, he proposed placing $197,500 into a general-fund contingency account, helping to lessen a potential deficit next year. The measure passed 5-2 with Hardman and Kirk dissenting.
Hardman said, while he supported hiring more police officers and a property-tax increase for library employee salaries, the council had approved too many new user fees that simply amounted to a tax by another name.
He said he also was concerned that the transfer of the responsibility of storm drainage from the Department of Public Works to the Department of Public utilities would result in another new fee next year.
"These fees will be greater than the tax rates," he said.
Whitehead had this reaction: "It's the best we can do with it at this time."
Horrocks said the budget was simply symbolic of the fiscal problems facing the capital city. He said state lawmakers have viewed the city as having "deep pockets" for too long. He said actions by the Legislature, including a reformulation of the way sales tax is distributed, has hurt the city. The redistribution of sales tax cut $600,000 from this year's budget.
"As the capital city goes, so goes the state," he said.
DePaulis said he could live with the budget and that the final budget would give him enough leeway to negotiate with unions.
Taxes and fees
Salt Lake City's budget includes:
-A tax hike to fund 46 new police officers and give raises to library employees. The owner of a $70,000 home will pay $18.53 a year more.
-New fees to pay for garbage collection and annual neighborhood cleanup. That's $2.50 a month or $30 more a year for property owners.
-Raise to $70 the fee for business licenses.
-A new ambulance fee.
-New animal shelter fees for animals left to be killed - $5 for cats, $10 for dogs.
-Money to keep the aging Liberty Park pool open another year.