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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Council passed the 2018 budget with a few changes to Mayor Ben McAdams' proposal — but not without some fireworks between Republicans and Democrats.
At issue in the $1.3 billion budget? About $367,000 in add-ons some council Republicans said they couldn't support out of concern for the county's credit rating.
The budget's passage — with just one Republican, Councilman Michael Jensen, voting in favor — means the county's partially mothballed Oxbow Jail will fully open next July to add 368 more jail beds to the county's stock.
But funding Oxbow wasn't at the heart of the council's budget discussions over the past few months.
In a series of workshops, the County Council individually voted on and passed 16 changes that added $367,162 to the mayor's budget proposal and an additional $496,200 in ongoing funding.
Among the changes was an additional $215,000 in funding for the Legal Defender's Association, on top of the $751,000 proposed by McAdams.
County Council Chairman Steve DeBry said he wouldn't support the budget because the council's changes increased spending over the mayor's proposal. He said he didn't think the attorneys who represent indigent clients needed the extra money, and he didn't want to "dip" into the county's fund balance.
"Imagine your own budget. Do you look at your savings account and decide to spend, spend, spend just because you can?" he said.
DeBry also said he supported about $477,000 in proposed budget cuts — including a $200,000 economic development study of the Oquirrh View area — but the cuts failed to gather enough council support.
Council members Aimee Winder Newton, Richard Snelgrove and Max Burdick, all Republicans, also said they wouldn't support the budget because of the add-ons.
Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, a Democrat, was visibly upset to hear "all of a sudden" most of the Republicans on the GOP-controlled council didn't want to support the budget — even though the County Council is required by law to pass a budget by the end of the year.
"The nine of us spent week after week after week debating priorities and we had come to a consensus budget," she said. "This is a solid budget, it's in balance and it's structurally sound — so for this late movement to make a political statement is doing nothing other than making noise."
But DeBry said not all council members supported the changes to the budget — so it shouldn't come as a surprise that council Republicans would vote against it.
Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw, a Democrat, asked Darrin Casper, county deputy mayor of finance, to clarify how much the county had in its fund balance that could be spent without impact to its bond rating. Casper said the county must maintain a minimum reserve of $34.1 million, and the ending balance is projected to be roughly $50 million to $54 million next year — between $17 million and $20 million over the minimum.
"And 300-and-some-odd-thousand is our big hang up on this?" Bradshaw said.
When it came down to the vote, every Republican voted against the budget — except Jensen, who cast his "yes" vote without comment.
At the end of the meeting, Jensen was visibly angry as he stormed out of the council chambers, not stopping when a reporter requested comment.
Despite the last-minute back-and-forth between council members, McAdams got everything he asked for in his budget proposal.
"The budget is sound, we accomplished all of our priorities without raising taxes," he said.
The mayor noted that if council members had brought up their concerns a few weeks ago, they could have perhaps been "easily addressed."