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Salt Lake County Auditor plans lawsuit over budget decision

By Steve Fidel | Posted - Nov. 16, 2011 at 8:03 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to move budget responsibilities from the County Auditor to the Salt Lake County Mayor's office won County Council approval Tuesday — and the promise of a lawsuit.

Auditor Gregory P. Hawkins said he will sue to block the change. "I think the proposal is wrong. I think it may border on being morally wrong," Hawkins told the Council, which voted 8-1 to support the proposal.

The decision followed a lengthy presentation from the auditor's office about the merits of keeping budgeting responsibilities, which involve 24 full-time employees and 65 percent of his department's budget.

I think the proposal is wrong. I think it may border on being morally wrong.

–Gregory Hawkins, SL County Auditor

A core argument by Hawkins is that the mayor becomes the proponent of individual programs in the county that could influence his or her objectivity when making budget projections.

"Mayors want to build parks and they want to fund Meals on Wheels and all sorts of other things," Hawkins said, promoting the idea that his office "can provide a clear analysis without having a vested agenda in the outcome."

Mayor Peter Corroon's position is that the auditor can be more useful to the county in the role of an auditor, not a budget planner.

Members of the County Council referred to hired advice from the Government Finance Officer's Association, which strongly recommended moving budget responsibilities to the mayor's office. Corroon supports that change, doing so late in his administration so that it mostly affects future mayors. Corroon's term ends next year and he is not seeking re-election.

Council member Richard Snelgrove was the only Council member to vote against the change. "Let's not rock the boat," he said, referring to the auditor's warning that any change could adversely affect the county's sterling bond rating. "Let's keep the status quo."

Hawkins said he would file suit "at the appropriate time," adding that solving this kind of dispute is a key reason the courts exist. "We just have to ask a judge yes or no, whether it's lawful," he said of the proposed change.

Steve Fidel


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