SALT LAKE CITY — Despite a dissenting vote from Luke Garrott, the Salt Lake City Council voted Tuesday to adopt the city's $255 million budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
"No budget is perfect; no process is perfect," Councilman Charlie Luke said. "However when looking at it as a package, this is a good budget."
The 5-1 vote solidified a $1.2 million increase to Mayor Ralph Becker's previous recommendations, adding five more new patrol officers and eight new social workers in the city's police department.
Additionally, the City Council approved $840,000 more for capital improvement projects and another $1 million on top of the mayor's already proposed $750,000 for a new fleet of energy-efficient cars.
Another $25,000 was added to enhance sexual harassment training in the police and fire departments in the wake of events that led to a pending sexual harassment complaint by three female police officers and the forced resignation of Police Chief Chris Burbank.
Cutbacks also had to be made. The most notable cut came when the City Council chose to strip an initiative Becker championed in his budget proposal — a $500,000 investment into earthquake preparedness and structural safety. Instead, the council chose to set aside only $50,000 for the effort.
"While there are always disappointments, we feel like generally the council agreed with most of our priorities and how we reflected back their priorities," said David Everitt, Becker's chief of staff. The mayor fully supported the addition of police officers and social workers, Everitt said.
Originally, the mayor anticipated $800,000 in new growth revenue, but final numbers made available to the City Council this month showed nearly $1 million more in new growth, which enabled extra funding for the new police officers and social workers.
The extra revenue brought the overall budget from $254 million to more than $255 million. Having grown by $14 million from last year, Becker's proposed budget had projected an extra $5.4 million in property tax revenue and $1.6 million in sales tax growth.
Council members were initially concerned about whether the growth would carry over into coming years but decided to proceed with the projections after collaborating with the mayor's staff.
Garrott, the City Council chairman who is running for mayor against Becker, stood by his concerns about the projections and the chance they could result in a tax increase if revenue falls short in coming years.
But Everitt said the administration makes conservative projections for revenue.
"We feel pretty confident that our projections will stand," he said.
Garrott also criticized the mayor's budget for increasing fines, fees and permit costs. He called the fines a "backdoor tax," even though Becker has "repeatedly touted" that his administration has never raised taxes.
"Ralph can claim no new taxes, but when he ratchets up parking fines, licensing fees and permit costs, residents, visitors and business owners certainly feel the financial pinch," Garrott said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday.
Garrott cited examples of increased revenue in Becker's budget that called concerning, including a new $50 fine for failing to pay at a parking meter, which increased from $15; an increased fine from $15 to $25 for expired parking meters; a new parking permit for non-freight vehicles that increased from $36 to $500 for business owners; and an increase for business freight sticker fees from $36 to $75.
Among other changes, the City Council approved $50,000 for an improved program for residents to access crime data; $20,000 for a downtown parks festival; $15,000 to support the Sugar House fireworks event; and another $62,500 for tree replacement on top of the mayor's proposed $750,000 for enhancing the city's urban forest.
For more information on the city's budget, visit www.slccouncil.com.
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