SALT LAKE CITY — Acting swiftly, the Salt Lake City Council with no debate Friday overrode nearly all budget line item vetoes Mayor Jackie Biskupski issued earlier this week, but members did uphold one and compromised on another.
"The intent was always to create a more transparent, streamlined process," Salt Lake City Council Chairman Charlie Luke said, arguing against the mayor’s claims that the council’s approach would bog down processes to build affordable housing.
However, the council did partly give in to one of Biskupski’s vetoes, allowing $125,000 to be included in the budget for the Road Home’s New House 20 program, which provides case management and housing assistance to people experiencing homelessness who are the highest users of emergency services.
FILE – Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke looks at Senator Gene Davis after Sen. Davis expressed his anger at the City council’s divide with the mayor, as Utah Legislators gather at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City for a special session on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.
Biskupski, in her veto statement, expressed worries that the council’s decision to place funding in a holding account would "jeopardize" the program this year, because funding would lapse.
It was "never the intent of the council" to jeopardize that program, Luke said, but added that "had the council received that info" it would have included $125,000 to keep it going. However, the council also decided to keep the remaining $125,000 in a holding account, only to release the rest of the funds after more discussion on the program.
On that issue and others, Luke said the mayor’s administration did not provide information council members requested, which is why the council chose to put contingencies on certain funding to ensure future discussions about the programs.
"However, better late than never," Luke said.
The council also voted to uphold a technical veto — one that Biskupski issued with concerns the council had violated the mayor-council separation of powers by transferring city memberships in civic organizations from the "nondepartmental" budget to a new "legislative, nondepartmental budget." The council upheld the veto without debate.
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The mayor, who was attending the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s in Honolulu on Friday, was "grateful the council came up with a compromise" on the New House 20 program, her spokesman, Matthew Rojas, told the Deseret News.
"We were really concerned that the funding would cease and we would be in a precarious situation," Rojas said. "So we support the compromise they came up with."
But Biskupski remains concerned, Rojas said, about the council’s override of her veto of the decision to shift about $2.6 million from the city’s Housing Trust Fund to the Redevelopment Agency (a body controlled by the City Council).
"The mayor continues to be concerned about the speed and effectiveness of our affordable housing programs," he said. "While we respect the RDA has … a role in affordable housing, the mayor continues to believe we need both the Housing Trust Fund and the RDA to be able to do that work."
The City Council during its budget deliberations supported Biskupski’s allocations for affordable housing, but decided to shift the Housing Trust Fund, which has been used to build or preserve affordable housing units, from the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Division and put it under the control of the RDA so developers wouldn’t need to submit multiple applications for funding.
The council’s aim, after a yearlong trial period, would be to divide the trust fund in two, with the RDA controlling lending for housing development while the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Division would control funding for housing programs.
Biskupski worried that move would only slow down the process, and Rojas said her administration continues to be concerned about "not having a functional trust fund." However, with the veto overridden, Rojas said the mayor’s administration has already begun working to implement a new process.
Luke, in a prepared statement issued after Friday’s override session, said he hopes to see the council and the mayor’s office work together as funding for housing programs are reviewed in future meetings.
"Our streamlining effort reduces confusion and redundancy in a growing housing program that has been spread over two city agencies," Luke said. "With our changes, no program has slowed down. In fact, these changes recognize the talents of the city’s housing and RDA’s staffs, who are dedicated to creating new affordable housing, providing quality programs and improving the process. We all share the goal of increasing the supply of affordable housing."
City Councilwoman Amy Fowler, who is also chairwoman of the city’s Redevelopment Agency, said the council shares the goal with the mayor to create "quick and targeted actions in this housing crisis."
"For taxpayers, consumers and the business community, we believe this change in our housing loan process is best in the long run," she said.