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With budget deliberations right around the corner, Salt Lake County Council members learned Tuesday they might have a bit more money to work with next year.

Not a lot more, just a few million dollars added to the county's $1 billion-a-year operation. And it's not guaranteed money, outside economist Doug Macdonald and county financial official Lance Brown concurred, noting that upbeat figures of economic recovery are accompanied by some troubling numbers that suggest the Great Recession's downward pull is still there.

Macdonald's report to the council emphasized cautious optimism.

He said taxable sales in the county could climb 6.8 percent next year, but they may inch up just 2.7 percent if percolating problems around the world get worse or some unforeseen crisis — such as last year's massive landslide at Kennecott's Bingham Canyon copper mine — bursts onto the scene.

"We're still in recovery mode. World shocks could hit us and knock us off course, no question about that," Macdonald said, observing that Europe's economy is stalled, so is Japan's, while Brazil and Russia are in recession. Fighting in the Middle East and Ukraine are a constant worry, too.

Much closer to home, though, the picture looks brighter. But there are still a few worrisome trends, he said.

Salt Lake County's job picture is reasonably good, with unemployment lower than most urban areas, but the county's rate of job growth has slowed to 2.5 percent, well below September's statewide average of 3.6 percent.

Homebuilding also has dropped off, Macdonald said, in part because more people in their 20s and 30s are living in their parents' basements, unable to afford homes of their own. Car sales also have slowed down after jumping up as the recession waned.

Even so, Brown said the county is moving into budget-preparation season with positive forecasts for its two main sources of revenue. He projected that countywide property taxes will be about $150.4 million, up $2.2 million from this year, while sales tax revenues are heading into the year's final quarter 5.3 percent ahead of last year and 1.2 percent above the county's 2014 budget.

All of the sales tax subcategories — on general sales, hotel rooms, restaurant meals, car rentals — are projected to be up a few percentage points, prompting the staid Brown to become almost giddy in pointing out that receipts of the quarter-cent county option tax finally have exceeded pre-recession levels.

At that same time, he pointed out that the purchasing power of those sales-tax dollars is less than it was before the recession because of inflation.

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