The Salt Lake City Council is finding addition easier than subtraction.
Mayor Palmer DePaulis has proposed an $80.3 million general fund budget, including controversial cuts in the police and fire departments. Members of the City Council have until June 9 to adopt a budget, but already they've identified a wish list of programs, totaling some $2.5 million, to consider adding back into the mayor's budget.After weeks of talking about additions, the council got down to the difficult business of cutting in a marathon budget session Thursday night. While council discussions in the past have been sparked with personal attacks and accusations, the lateness of the hour, after a month of similar sessions, prompted compromise and a touch of levity in the deliberations.
In total, the council considered 47 possible cuts as identified by their staff, involving about $2.9 million. After 3 1/2 hours of discussion, a council majority embraced only $290,000 of the offered cuts.
The entire council budgeting process could prove to be an exercise in futility, however, as Mayor Palmer DePaulis holds the trump card of line-item veto authority, which he has hinted he might use in the interest of public policy.
"We'll have to check with the mayor's astrologer on that," said Mike Zuhl, the mayor's chief staff, when asked Thursday night about the possibility of a mayoral veto.
A veto might set up an interesting situation, as a 5-2 council majority is needed to override the mayor. If the council doesn't have the votes, it is questionable, what might happen, as the mayor doesn't have the authority to appropriate money and restore cuts approved by the council.
Council Executive Director Linda Hamilton said such a situation would prompt immediate negotiations, in order to adopt a city budget both the legislative and executive branches of city government will accept.
Some of the cuts agreed upon in the lengthy budget session Thursday night were easy and found unanimous support in council straw polls. No council member complained too much about cutting $2,800 from the parks department for drug testing, since testing is paid for by the human resources division. Other easy cuts were the development services and fire departments contingency funds, about $6,200, a $24,252 budgeting error in the city attorney's office and $3,542 to hire interns in their own office.
"This has been the high point of my political career," Kirk said, as the "easy" cuts were offered up, and the council just as easily agreed to them. "I've never had such a good time."
But harder choices prompted agonizing votes. The council members agreed not to consider cutting the overtime police department budget by $43,800; or delaying the hiring of a new officer recruit class, for a $77,000 savings; or eliminating the city's economic development division at $60,000.
Hamilton admitted that some of the potential cuts offered up in a nine-page hit list were arbitrary suggestions. Council staff members prioritized the cuts, with those on the "A" list being recommended. The options on the "B" list would affect city services or employee morale, Hamilton cautioned, while the "C" list represented cuts of last resort.
"Now we come back to our old favorites, which appear every year," Hamilton said, when the council had plowed through to page four of the list. The council reluctantly agreed not to cut $14,000 allocated for the city's international relations program; $23,500 for downtown trolley service; and $20,000 to pay the city's membership in the valleywide Council of Government.
"I put them on every year and nothing ever happens," Hamilton said.
"We're down to the stuff that doesn't come easy," she warned, by the time the council reached page six.