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Salt Lake County mulling how to overcome $17.2 million deficit

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 16 2011 12:49 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — In light of an apparent $17.2 million budget deficit, the chairman of the Salt Lake County Council says it's time to put all the county's finances on the table.

Max Burdick said Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon must explain how the executive branch, which earlier this year had discussed restoring cuts to employee pay based on improving revenue projections, now has a budget deficit on its hands.

"We want to know, what's his plan? He's the guy who puts the budget together," Burdick said.

Burdick said he plans to empanel a committee of council members, the mayor and other elected officials, "and we're going to have to start crunching the numbers."

One thing is certain, Burdick said: "I don't think there's a lot of appetite to raise taxes."

Darrin Casper, the county's chief financial officer, said the problem is twofold: revenues aren't meeting projections, and the county's costs are increasing. People are postponing large purchases such as homes and automobiles, which means lower sales-tax and property-tax revenues.

Because of the sluggish real estate market "property-tax growth has evaporated," Casper said.

"It's understandable and reasonable in this economy to be cautious," with consumer spending, Casper said. "Unfortunately, being an entity that relies on those taxes, it makes it hard."

On top of that, the county faces a $4 million hike in health insurance costs.

The financial picture is not as grave as 2009, Casper said, but it may be challenging to deal with because "the easy cuts have been made."

Burdick said his concerns transcend this year's budget cycle. The county has tens of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance needs that must also be addressed.

"Let's put everything on the table, not just the $17.2 million we're in the in the whole here. We need to get a handle on where we are and try to make some good decisions from this point," Burdick said.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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