Like many individuals and families across the nation, the Salt Lake City Council has had a tough time making ends meet because of the rising cost of fuel.

The reality that it will cost more to fill the tanks of police cars, firetrucks and other vehicles in the city's fleet was felt throughout the six weeks of budget work sessions, forcing the council to weigh cuts to one department over trims in another.

By Tuesday evening, the City Council had finalized a nearly $210 million general-fund budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year that all seven of its members could agree upon.

In the end, the council didn't deviate far from the course outlined in Mayor Ralph Becker's budget.

The only major change was to maintain fire operations at station No. 5 at 1023 E. 900 South, which Becker envisioned becoming a response center for medical emergencies only.

The council found a way around the partial closure by eliminating three firefighter positions and moving fire personnel from administrative posts into the field. The council also restructured staffing of the city's Community Emergency Response Team to help account for the $470,000 needed to keep a firefighting presence at the station.

Balancing revenues with expenditures became more difficult midway through the process when it was determined that the fuel expense estimates in Becker's budget were outdated and insufficient by about $450,000.

"It was a heck of a year to cut our teeth on," said JT Martin, who along with fellow City Council newcomer Luke Garrott experienced balancing the budget for the first time.

The elimination of a handful of positions — most of them already vacant — and the decision to treat some ongoing expenses as one-time costs allowed the City Council to offset the rising fuel costs without raising property taxes.

As part of the budget, the City Council also issued a statement of its intent that the city develop a plan for reducing fuel usage in city-owned vehicles and explore the use of alternative-fuel vehicles.

A majority of the City Council voted in favor of offering $15,000 in one-time money to be used as incentives for employees to come up with creative ways to cut fuel costs.

"It's a tool that may be helpful to the administration," said Jill Remington Love, council chairwoman.

Lyn Creswell, the city's chief administrative officer, said Becker has set a July 6 deadline for city department heads to report on how they plan to reduce fuel consumption in their respective departments.

The City Council also wants to explore the idea of having fire crews use more fuel-efficient vehicles when responding to medical emergencies, though no funding was put toward the effort in the budget. If its determined that the use of smaller vehicles would fit into the city's fire operations, the City Council would have to amend the budget.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com