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Salt Lake sharpens budget ax

It's hard to find a department in Salt Lake City that doesn't face a budget crises in this lean fiscal year.

And as various city departments look to cut costs, one item on the chopping block is a planned west-side library branch extension.

Currently, the city's general fund — which funds police, fire, public services and the City Council and mayoral staff — faces a $5.8 million shortfall. That's even after Salt Lake City scored a coup and received $2.6 million in back sales tax dollars from the Utah Legislature last week.

Public utilities, which has a budget separate from the general fund, faces what will likely become a $2.5 million budget deficit by fiscal year's end. And the Salt Lake Department of Libraries, which just opened the new city library downtown and also operates on a budget separate from the general fund, looks at a $1 million budget shortfall.

Even the city's mosquito abatement district is in the hole. Possibly the only city department that doesn't face a shortfall is the Salt Lake Department of Airports. Director Tim Campbell said he expects the airport will come out at or a little ahead of budget by fiscal year's end.

Tuesday, the City Council will begin a process to balance the general fund by month's end. It will also hear from libraries director Nancy Tessman concerning the library's plans to balance its budget.

Included in Tessman's recommendations will be the allocation of $350,000 from the library's capital fund balance, which "will most certainly delay plans for a new west-side library branch," Tessman wrote in March 4 letter to the council and Mayor Rocky Anderson.

Already, Anderson has put forth his recommended general fund budget cuts to the council. Included in Anderson's recommended cuts was the $700,000 the council wants to spend on 2002 Winter Olympics legacy projects. That money, Anderson said, should be used to balance the budget and, if it were used, might save some city employees from losing their jobs.

"We could spare a lot of city positions if the council would forgo those expensive Olympic projects," Anderson said.

There is some support in the council to do just that. Councilman Dale Lambert has lambasted other council members for using the money for "pet" projects designed to appease their constituents.

Anderson's recommended cuts also include the elimination of an airport police sergeant, a tech support position, a public education liaison and others. One thing contributing to the deficit is $500,000 in cost overruns related to the South Temple reconstruction, which has brought complaints from area residents.

It's not known how public utilities expects to balance its budget. This year the city's water revenues are already off $1.5 million, and finance director Jim Lewis expects them to fall another $1 million by the end of June, placing the department in a $2.5 million budget hole. The problem is compounded because sewer revenues are also down $500,000 this year. Both deficits are being blamed on conservation, which has led to decreased use and, therefore, decreased revenues.

The council will examine the general fund woes Tuesday and then consider what cuts to make next week.


E-MAIL: bsnyder@desnews.com