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Salt Lake City Council pondering fireworks, golf, fire station

Published June 2, 2014 11:14 am

SLC budget • Mayor Becker has proposed a $229 million budget.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City Council members face a few decisions before finalizing a budget for the year that begins July 1.

• Do they go along with Mayor Ralph Becker's proposal not to spend $25,000 — a drop in his $229 million budget plan — for summer fireworks at Liberty and Jordan parks as a symbolic gesture for air quality?

• Do they shut down an infrequently used fire station west of Salt Lake City International Center just as the airport begins a major renovation that boosts the potential for an industrial accident?

• Will they stick with plans to close the par 3 golf course in Rose Park permanently in November as a way to make ends meet this year while golf officials come up with a long-term approach to fix a deficit driven by decreasing play and high costs for water?

• And will they find money for a couple of council members' projects — one establishing a Youth City program on the west side, the other promoting completion of a pedestrian/bike trail that cuts through a lengthy stretch of east-side neighborhoods?

Before making those decisions June 10, the council will hold a second public hearing Tuesday at 7 p.m. to hear which issues are important to residents. It will take place in Room 315 of City Hall, 451 S. State.

The council has spent the past three weeks questioning department heads about components of Becker's budget, which does not seek a property tax increase, gives employees a 3 percent pay raise, sets aside more money for deferred maintenance and advances several measures to reduce pollution in the Salt Lake Valley.

Fireworks • Eliminating funding for July 4 fireworks at Jordan Park and the July 24 show at Liberty Park is a key piece of Becker's air-quality package.

City Public Services Director Rick Graham defended the cut, saying fireworks dust causes problems for neighbors with respiratory problems.

"We have stepped forward as a city to be a leader in air quality," Graham said. "This is something we can control."

While council members applauded Becker's goal, they clearly signaled an intent to return fireworks funding to the budget.

Council Chairman Charlie Luke said the plan was "silly" and chastised Becker for putting the council into a position of having to reject a clean-air proposal that really doesn't do much for clean air.

"I'm sorry you have to defend this," Councilwoman Lisa Adams told Graham, likening the approach to "tossing a stone in the ocean" when the Jordan and Liberty parks shows are so small compared to other displays, like those at Sugar House Park and at Smith's Ballpark after Salt Lake Bees games.

"We take this away and everyone goes to Evanston and buys everything awful," she said. "We're going to set the whole valley on fire and that will really make the air quality bad. It's a nice thought, but there are other ways to show we care about air quality."

Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, executive director of the nonprofit group Breathe Utah and recently appointed to the Utah Board of Air Quality, said decisions about fireworks should be based on pollution conditions on the days of the shows, rather than a blanket ban that inhibits two small "community-building, neighborhood-supportive events.

"Leadership is building policies that impact the whole valley," she said. "This is just us boycotting two shows and not really making a dent on pollution in the valley."

Councilman Kyle LaMalfa's compromise solution is to restore the funding but use only a portion for a reduced fireworks show. The rest of the money would go to other activities at those parks.

Resolving the fireworks debate is easy because it involves only $25,000. A far bigger price tag makes fixing the golf problem even harder.

Golf • The golf program will enter next year with a $500,000 deficit, a shortfall that will not shrink even with the planned closure of the Jordan River par 3 course. It could worsen if the city doesn't replace deteriorating watering systems at its courses and switch to using untreated irrigation water instead of more expensive drinking water.

"We're in a hole," Graham said. "It's a problem we have to fix. We can't continue to operate that way."

In response to council questions, he said the city is promoting several programs (especially for youths) to stem a decline in rounds played. About 425,000 rounds will be played at city courses in the year ending June 30, down 7,500 from last year and down 45,000 from the peak a decade ago.

"The market is challenging," Graham said, noting the number of golf holes along the central Wasatch Front has almost doubled since 1995.

On top of that, a complete replacement of the watering system for the popular Bonneville course is needed badly, with Glendale and Rose Park not far behind.

"Bonneville has a brand and it is one we cherish and need to maintain," he said. "It's a cost we'll have to bear to allow Bonneville to maintain its character and customer value. It's sliding because it's just getting worn out."

Other items • The plan to close the airport fire station, built in 1987 by developer and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, would save the city more than $400,000 next year. Karl Lieb, deputy chief of operations, said crews from other west-side stations could cover its territory without a major reduction in response time.

But that made several council members nervous. Councilman James Rogers expressed concern that closing the airport station would damage the "safety net" for the city's whole northwest side.

LaMalfa also made a strong plea for the city to invest more money in a west-side Youth City program. He cited an earlier review that revealed that while 50 percent of the city's 9- to 14-year-olds live on the west side, they make up only 11 percent of Youth City participants.

Mendenhall, meanwhile, is pushing for the city to include a $1 million upgrade to a pedestrian/biking trail that runs north/south at about 1000 East in a proposed bond for street improvements on 1300 South and 1700 South.

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

Public hearing

The Salt Lake City Council will accept comments at 7 p.m. Tuesday from residents about Mayor Ralph Becker's proposed $229 million budget for the year that begins July 1. The hearing is in Room 315 of City Hall, 451 S. State.