The Salt Lake City Council, on a 4-3 vote, adopted a budget that hikes property taxes and includes raises for city employees, but Mayor Palmer DePaulis said he will veto the across-the-board cuts the council approved.
DePaulis said his veto will throw the budget out of balance, and he is considering disapproving other cuts the council made.Councilmembers Tom Godfrey, Sydney Fonnesbeck and Roselyn Kirk, who voted against the $79.6 million general-fund budget, said giving employee merit raises would lead to layoffs. In addition, City Attorney Roger Cutler said the financial plan could be constitutionally flawed.
Willie Stoler, Florence Bittner, Alan Hardman and Wayne Horrocks approved the budget. The council majority hunted for money by considering cuts in a variety of city programs, then filled a $419,846 gap by approving additional across-the-board cuts.
"I think the agenda in this meeting is not to fund merits, because we're hurting the employees more than we're helping them. I think the hidden agenda is to discredit the mayor," charged Kirk.
The City Council scheduled emergency Sunday and Monday meetings to try to gain the five-vote majority needed to override DePaulis' line-item veto, or failing that, to negotiate an acceptable compromise with the mayor.
By state law, the council has to adopt a budget for the 1988-89 fiscal year by Wednesday, but Councilwoman Florence Bittner plans to leave on vacation Tuesday. The current fiscal year ends June 30.
Also contained in the council's budget is a property tax hike equal to about $3.44 on an average $70,000 home, with the revenue increases earmarked for the city's library system.
"I have heard Roger tell us this is illegal. Do you know what malfeasance in office is?" Fonnesbeck asked her colleagues. "We, as the council, can not vote for something that is illegal."
Cutler said approval of an across-the-board cut to city departments "smacks" of abdicating the council's authority to appropriate the city's funds and throwing it back to the mayor. "I'm troubled it may be illegal delegation if you don't tell the mayor where to make the cuts."
But Councilman Stoler, who led the successful drive to restore the raises, said city coffers had the money but the raises just weren't a high enough priority to the mayor. He said if city bosses wanted to, they could find enough money without any layoffs. "Now it's time (or them) to go to work as managers. If we get into a constitutional crisis, so be it."
Bittner said to not fund raises would be balancing the city budget on the employees' backs. "My conscience will not allow me to do that." She said the mayor had ignored her repeated requests to eliminate city positions.
The mayor's budget proposal eliminated 35 positions this year, said Budget Director Steve Fawcett.
DePaulis charged that council members cut salaries and travel budgets for other city departments while substantially raising the pay of their own employees and tacking up their own travel budget. Cutting car allowances of executives and managers by 25 percent per month equals a pay cut. "You didn't do that for anyone else in the city. And they are employees too. They are top employees.
"However, the council did increase their own staff salaries. Nobody else got increases, yet the council approves increases for their own people."
Godfrey said he could never remember being more embarrassed to be a council member then after Thursday's 6 1/2-hour meeting. He charged that a council majority had arbitrarily slashed some programs by 20 to 50 percent, while saving others.
By finding the $600,000 to raise employee salaries, the council sacrificed other significant community programs, such as the police department's crime prevention and crime analysis units, and an additional four firefighters. "By giving this $600,000 for merits, we're probably going to be firing people," Godfrey said.
"If I'm in a private business and we don't make money, we don't give increases. I believe we just don't have the money," Kirk said.
Fonnesbeck charged her colleagues with creating a big to-do over merit raises, which work out to only a few dollars per month. "I think that's grandstanding on the wrong end. I don't want to see people fired.
"It's nice to avoid the political responsibility, but what are we here for? These are absolutely blind cuts. We have no idea what we are cutting."
But Stoler and Bittner disputed the charges. "It's not to my advantage to embarrass the mayor or anybody else," Stoler said.
DePaulis said he didn't recommend employee raises, even though he knew it would be controversial, because city revenues have dropped. "That's why we didn't recommend the merits. If it were possible, I would have done it, because our employees deserve it, and I want them to know it.
"We're down to the point that we're not making policy anymore. We're just closing the gap."
After throwing the weight of his veto around, DePaulis defused the tension of the meeting by making a joking threat. "Besides that, I'm going to take you off my Christmas card list."