SALT LAKE CITY — There were no property tax increases, layoffs or cuts to city services.
And for the first time since Mayor Ralph Becker took office in 2008, there was no talk about declining revenues.
With a collective sigh of relief and sense of accomplishment, the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday night approved the city's budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, bringing to an end two months of lengthy discussion, debate and deliberation.
"It's nice that we have some expanding revenue again," Council Chairman Soren Simonsen said after Tuesday's meeting. "Over the past four years, we've been making cuts pretty consistently, some of them pretty painful cuts. This year, we've been in the mode of being able to restore some things."
In the end, the general fund budget totaled nearly $205 million — nearly $1 million larger than originally proposed by Becker in May.
Higher-than-expected sales tax and property tax projections announced a little more than a week ago gave the City Council nearly $1.4 million more to work with in the general fund. Much of that went into a fund for capital improvements to be put toward maintenance projects that have been delayed during lean budget years.
"We need to continue to focus on capital needs in the city," Simonsen said. "You can only defer things for so long before they become bigger problems."
The City Council also gained $250,000 in revenue by ending the tradition of free metered parking downtown during the holiday shopping season. Since 2003, city leaders had authorized two hours of free parking as an incentive to shop and dine downtown during the holidays.
"We have a lot of merchants and downtown institutions that are offering other kinds of parking incentives to get people downtown," Simonsen said. "It may simply be something we don't need to be in the business of doing anymore."
Changes in the city's parking program were among the most significant of the budget cycle. The City Council supported Becker's proposal to raise the rate for on-street parking from $1.50 to $2 per hour, as well as to extend the hours of enforcement later into the evening.
Instead of charging for metered parking until 10 p.m. as originally proposed, the City Council settled on enforcement from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
City leaders said the goal is to change the culture of parking downtown by encouraging those parking for more than two hours to use parking structures, allowing the on-street spaces to be utilized for short stays.
"It's really best for the city that we encourage people to use parking structures," Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said. "There are parking structures that are cheaper than on-street parking."
The City Council also included in the budget $100,000 on an education and marketing campaign to make people aware of where they can park and what it costs.
"I think that education and outreach effort will be very significant and important so people not only know how to use the parking, but they know how to find parking," Simonsen said.
The City Council decided to hold off on making any decisions about the Jordan River par-3 golf course. City officials have proposed closing much of the course, keeping only hole Nos. 1 and 2 and the short-game practice area, as a way to save money in the city's golf budget.
Jordan River has been a drain on the city budget to the tune of $68,000 per year over the past five years. The course averages a little more than 12,000 rounds played per year — a total that would need to increase 80 percent in order for the course to break even.
The budget approved Tuesday night calls for the course to continue operations until the City Council revisits the issue.-
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