Oops — blunder leaves Salt Lake City $760,000 short
Government • Becker's team seeks to tap other projects to make up for fleet faux pas.
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It's more than a little embarrassing, but then $760,000 screw-ups are like that.

In what is being described as an "accounting error," Salt Lake City spent $762,273 that it didn't have on a $1.5 million fleet facility at 1990 W. 500 South.

News of the blunder caught the City Council off guard at a budget hearing Tuesday. The council must sign off on Mayor Ralph Becker's proposed $204 million spending plan by June 30.

Three council members said Wednesday they still were unclear on the intricacies of the costly goof. Nonetheless, the mayor's financial gurus are rooting through the proposed 2012-13 budget looking for funds to cover the faux pas. As outlined in the budget proposal, they want to tap money left over from completed projects such as improvements to roads, sidewalks and parks.

But council members wince at snaring funds originally earmarked for such work.

Councilman Luke Garrott labeled it a "fiasco" in Tuesday's budget discussions. "Street funds going to fleet [for this error] is not cool with me."

The realization that something isn't quite right is reflected in a small item buried in the mayor's 250-plus-page budget. Becker spokesman Art Raymond explained that the city bought the acreage for the fleet facility before the bond was issued for the purchase of the land and construction of the building. According to strict bond rules, he said, too much time had lapsed between when the land was bought and when the bond was issued.

Proceeds from the bond were then used on other planned projects.

"We can solve the funding dilemma with fund balances for other capital projects we completed under budget," Raymond said. "We're working to rectify this, so it won't happen again."

But before the council would sign off on the mayor's plan, it asked Becker's staff to ensure the projects identified with leftover cash actually were finished.

"We sent them back to give us further detail on those projects," Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said Wednesday. "I think we're OK if the projects are complete."

Of the eight items identified to provide funds to reimburse the fleet facility, the most problematic looks to be the class C surplus [road] funds, which would provide $383,274 ­— about half the amount needed to make up the overrun.

Those monies come from state taxes on gasoline and are intended for transportation purposes, most notably construction and maintenance of streets and related infrastructure.

"That's the one that bothered us," Love said.

But a provision of state law allows class C funds to be spent on buildings that house road-maintenance vehicles.

csmart@sltrib.com