South Salt Lake • Budget discussions at a special City Council meeting earlier in the week revealed a deep rift between Mayor Cherie Wood and council members, though they were resolved in a compromise agreement approved unanimously last Wednesday.
"We're excited," Wood said Friday, adding that the city will pursue federal and energy-related grants to "leverage" city tax dollars.
The council wanted several projects funded: a traffic signal at the Sugar House streetcar and 400 East, where several people have been killed; curb and gutter projects; fixing the storm drain problem at Lincoln Park; landscaping improvements along Helm Ave. and Baird Ave.; street lighting; council outreach and neighborhood communications; and a slight raise for civilian employees. The council also will hire its own attorney.
Based on the original proposal, these projects would have cost $1.8 million. The council suggested eliminating the Urban Livability Department and moving animal services to the police department and code enforcement to the economic development department. The council's proposed budget also called for eliminating the Fire Department's take-home vehicles, decreasing the mayor's administrative budget and contracting out the city's newsletter to The Valley Journals.
The public and mayor opposed proposed reductions in the Urban Livability department or increases in fire-response times. Administrators also feared that the city council's budget would eliminate jobs.
"We're cutting people," warned Wood. "There is no more fluff to cut. We've been cutting for six years — since I've been in office."
She encouraged the council to instead search for grant money for their special projects.
The council is already receiving $1 million from new state legislation and $91,000 from property taxes due to the city's growth.
After hours of back and forth Tuesday night, the council reduced the budget for its special projects to $1,061,500, with an agreement to search for federal grants.
Among other things:
• The council decided against cutting the fire department's take-home vehicles.
• Urban Livability will become a division.
• The city will contract out the newsletter and park three administration take-home vehicles.
Council members complained that aside from budget discussions over the last two weeks, they have had little communication with the mayor.
Council Chairwoman Debbie Snow said none of the council's budget priorities were included in the mayor's budget.
Councilman Ben Pender said the rift stretched beyond the budget.
"Mayor, you've communicated more in the last two weeks than the last several months," said Pender.
He also noted that city laws make it difficult for council members to meet with department heads and if those obstacles were removed and council members could ask department heads to ask questions, the budget process would not have been shorter and simpler.
Wood thanked the council for compromising and asked for its help making the administrative department more transparent.
Pender, in turn, urged the mayor not to "stop the dialogue because the budget's over."