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Salt Lake County patches budget leaks

Fine Arts woes, errors in accounting to cost $1.5 million

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Financial deception within the Fine Arts Department and accounting errors with golf course bond payments will cost Salt Lake County $1.5 million.

The Fine Arts problems, detailed in an audit released June 9, led to the retirement of the former director and the firing of the fiscal manager. They included opening unapproved accounts, spending petty cash inappropriately and misreporting revenues. The department lost more than $1.2 million during the past five years.

To help fix the shortfall, the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday approved an $800,000 transfer from the Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention fund to the Fine Arts fund. The remaining $400,000 in losses will be covered by cuts to various arts programs and the postponement of some capital projects.

The golf fund also needed an injection of funds because of a $493,000 bond payment for Old Mill Golf Course and a $212,000 bond payment for South Mountain Golf Course.

Unlike previous years, when golf revenues have fallen short of projections, this year's transfers to the golf fund were needed because of confusion about municipal bond payments for the two courses, said David Marshall, Mayor Nancy Workman's chief administrative officer. The problems primarily stemmed from the fact that financial officers within many of the county's departments are still getting used to managing the very complicated municipal bonds, which were first done in 1997.

Councilman Randy Horiuchi said the golf-fund deficit is not another sign that the county golf courses are failing.

"The golf fund has actually done a great job tracking their expenses, until these glitches," he said. "At the end of the year, you will see it is healthier."

The transfers were part of the midyear budget adjustments made by the council Tuesday. For the most part, the adjustments are technical in nature, with a few made to address immediate problems.

Highlights of the adjustments include:

$62,000 for the hiring of three new attorneys in the public defenders office and two prosecutors in the district attorney's office. The new attorneys are needed because the number of criminal cases is up almost 25 percent since last year, an increase that usually takes five years to reach, said John Hill, director of the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association.

The increase is tough to understand, Hill said, because there is not one simple explanation. Instead, most of the increase is attributable to the crimes "you read about in the newspaper, the double homicides, the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping" that involve indigent defendants.

"I've seen no evidence that it is an anomaly," Hill said. "This is a trend that will continue."

Twenty deputies who had patrolled Draper prior to the city's decision to start its own police department will be shifted to the unincorporated parts of the county. The increased patrols will put the areas closer to the average number of deputies per resident that most county cities use.

Despite the shift, the county actually will make about $260,000, primarily because the remaining five contract cities are paying the full cost of service.

The deputies added to the unincorporated areas will give better opportunities for enforcement of minor property crimes, Sheriff Aaron Kennard said.

"We need to increase the visibility of uniformed officers with those minor crimes that have become so pervasive," he said.

A greater variety of movies will be shown more often at Clark Planetarium, and tickets will soon be available online for the shows. The increase in the planetarium budget, which will also go to additional promotional efforts, totals $330,800.

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com