Fire service will continue at station No. 5, city vehicles can be filled with gas and downtown parking remains free on Saturdays and weekday evenings.

All in all, it was a successful Salt Lake City Council work session Tuesday.

With some staff restructuring that included the elimination of a handful of positions — most of them already vacant — and opting to treat some ongoing expenses as one-time costs, the City Council cleared the major hurdles of the 2008-09 fiscal-year budget without raising property taxes.

It was 10:30 p.m. when council chairwoman Jill Remington Love uttered the magic words — "We're balanced" — marking the end of a budget season made more challenging by the rising costs of fuel and health care.

The City Council will adopt the $209 million general-fund budget June 17.

"Because of the size of the task, there's a feeling of achievement," said first-year councilman Luke Garrott. "But it doesn't feel like a victory because of all the cuts that had to be made."

The council opted to eliminate three firefighter positions and move fire personnel from administrative posts into the field. That action, along with some reshuffling of clerical personnel and restructuring of the city's Community Emergency Response Team, allows the city to maintain fire operations at station No. 5, 1023 E. 900 South.

Mayor Ralph Becker's budget proposed to devote the station exclusively to emergency medical responses, saving about $470,000.

The short-lived idea of doing away with free downtown parking on weekends and evenings was officially put to rest with very little discussion Tuesday night. Council members had been inundated with complaints from downtown merchants and shoppers since suggesting the change as a way to gain an estimated $300,000 in revenue.

"We're going with what the mayor recommended," Love said.

Becker's budget proposed across-the-board fee increases that included boosting the fine for an expired-meter parking ticket from $10 to $15. The tickets get more expensive — reaching $105 — if not paid on time.

David Everitt, Becker's chief of staff, said the idea of eliminating free metered parking downtown after 6 p.m. and on Saturdays was explored by the mayor's office but dismissed because the negative impacts outweighed the benefits.

Rising fuel costs created about a $450,000 funding gap in the budget Becker presented to the City Council on May 6.

Councilman Soren Simonsen suggested not covering the additional fuel costs, saying the city would be better served by finding ways to reduce fuel consumption.

"I'm not personally motivated to throw money at something that will be a problem again next year," Simonsen said.

Councilman Eric Jergensen suggested a compromise in which increased fuel costs are covered in the 2008-09 budget, with a noted intent of the City Council that fuel expenses remain flat in future years.

"The reality is we have firetrucks, police cars, snowplows and garbage trucks," Jergensen said. Reducing fuel consumption should be the city's goal, he said, but figuring out how to do that will take some time.

The mayor's office came back with some suggestions to fill the funding gap, including the elimination of a division director position in the city's youth programs.

A majority of City Council members agreed with the recommendation, saying they believe the administrative cut would not negatively affect the quality of the city's youth programs, namely YouthCity.

Several parents of children participating in YouthCity have spoken out at recent City Council meetings — including Tuesday — requesting that the council allocate the funding the program needs to sustain its level of service.

An office employee for youth programs also was on the chopping block, but it survived the cuts because city staff said it was a critical position.

The City Council dodged another potential obstacle when property-tax revenue from Salt Lake County came back about $20,000 more than estimated in the mayor's budget.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com