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Games ‘surprises’ beset Salt Lake

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The great unknown that is the 2002 Olympics has but one certainty, Salt Lake Deputy Mayor Rocky Fluhart says. There are going to be "surprises," he said ? the financial kind.

Before asking the City Council to open the city's wallet yet another time, Fluhart served up a fresh example.

Fluhart learned Thursday that insurance for the buses that will shuttle people to the downtown Olympic festival will cost $50,000 more than budgeted.

"It's a value judgment," Fluhart said, "to forgo the shuttle or not." But the buses, 10 of them, were to run 15 hours a day, shuttling 2,000 people per hour between the Pioneer Park transportation hub and Washington Square, where live entertainment and big-screen video of Olympic events will be nearly constant during the Games.

An astounded Councilman Dale Lambert observed that at almost every meeting since he took office Jan. 7, something new has been heaped onto the pile of funding requests. "As I understand it," Lambert said, Salt Lake City was going to sink $4.2 million into Games-related activities this year ? "and those expenses have grown to something just north of $5 million."

A few meetings ago Fluhart had pitched the idea of having council members host two receptions for 300-500 people on the evenings of opening and closing ceremonies, Feb. 8 and Feb. 24. These catered events would be for "a cross-section of people from all walks of life in our community" and give locals a chance to mingle with Olympic visitors from around the world. Cost for the parties: $70,000. Mayor Rocky Anderson and his staff have brought in a portion of that in private donations, but the council still needs to green-light the receptions.

Council members hesitated several times. They were supposed to decide Thursday ? and then came the surprise need for $50,000 in shuttle-bus insurance.

And another thing: Since security costs ate up the city's original Olympic contingency fund of $265,000, Fluhart asked the council to approve an additional $100,000 for unanticipated costs.

And in the interest of full disclosure, said council director Cindy Gust-Jenson, this isn't everything. A complete cost report can't be laid out because "I don't believe the complete information exists."

Faced with the dilemma of appropriating huge chunks of money that still might not be enough, Councilwoman Nancy Saxton said, "I'm scared to death. I don't know what to do."

Council chairman Dave Buhler stepped in. "I think we all have knots in our stomachs," he said. But if the city is going to the trouble of putting on the lavish downtown festival every day of the Games, it ought to provide good public transit to it. And if the Olympics are coming in less than two weeks, the city ought to join the party ? or parties, even if they cost $70,000.

"We can't be half pregnant," Buhler said. "We have to see this through to delivery."

Vice chairman Carlton Christensen agreed that "we'll be sorry" if people don't find it easy to get around downtown Salt Lake City. "Otherwise they'll go to Park City," he said.

And at Christensen's urging, the council finally approved $400,000 to cover the slimmed contingency fund, the shuttle-bus insurance and the receptions.

Buhler tried again to make everybody feel better.

"One thing's for sure: Feb. 24 the Olympics will be gone," he said. "It will end."

E-MAIL: durbani@desnews.com