Anyone who's ever battled the IRS over the legitimacy of a tax deduction can probably appreciate the reaction by Salt Lake officials to charges by the state legislative auditor's office that the city is using beer tax and liquor profit receipts improperly.
"Our position is that while the city isn't necessarily complying with the letter of the law, it is certainly complying with the spirit," said Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Chabries, responding to the report, which was presented to the Legislative Audit Subcommittee Wednesday. "I think this is a case where you need to look beyond the legislation for results."The legislation in question - SB109, passed during the 1983 Legislature - earmarked beer tax receipts for stepped-up enforcement of liquor-related offenses - primarily DUIs. Failure to comply could result in a loss of funding.
But an audit of six Wasatch Front cities found Salt Lake City and Provo weren't in compliance with the law. Provo originally took action to comply but reversed this effort two years later. Salt Lake City never took steps to comply, according to the audit. Salt Lake City and Provo accounted for $368,147 in fiscal 1988, or 65 percent of the increased allocations to the six cities audited.
The cities of Ogden, South Ogden, Cedar City and Orem were all found to be in compliance. An earlier 1987 audit found both Salt Lake and Weber counties in compliance with the law.
Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis, of course, disagrees with the audit's findings and says it all comes down to a matter of bookkeeping.
"If you take just the selected years (since passage of SB109) in which to measure, then it looks like we don't comply. But there were years before the passage of the law where the city spent its own dollars (combating alcohol-related offenses). We've been committed to it for a long while and have spent a great deal of money on it. When you look at it that way, we've more than complied."
DePaulis said the city takes dollars into the general fund and expends them on programs. "It all comes into the general fund, the issue is whether we have the program and have made the dollar commitments."
Salt Lake City Attorney Roger Cutler said proof of the city's commitment to battling DUI and related offenses is its level of prosecution. He said the city has maintained a substantial level of prosecution despite decreasing budgets and reductions in police personnel.
Cutler said his office prosecutes every case brought in, unless there is an evidence problem, and enjoys a 94 to 96 percent success rate. He said the city accounts for two-thirds of Utah's DUI prosecutions.
"We can't do any more than we're already doing," said Cutler, who called DUI enforcement one of his office's top three priorities. The other two are life safety code violations and vice.
"The city's level of enforcement for DUI's have been constant. To say the city isn't using its liquor money properly is unfair."
But statistics released by the committee suggest otherwise - actually showing a slight decrease in the percentage of alcohol-related arrests vs. total arrests in Salt Lake City since 1983.
Chabries contends, however, the city was operating at a high performance level on alcohol-related offenses long before SB109 came to be.
"We were doing a good job with liquor enforcement before the bill passed. This didn't just start for us in 1983. Adding money doesn't necessarily translate to increase efficiency," Chabries said.
He said discussions with the audit committee are continuing.