Several years ago I publicly shared the story of one my sons who had suicidal thoughts, and our efforts to get him help. Since this time I have heard stories from many residents who have struggled to find resources to help loved ones through their own mental health challenges. Hearing these stories reminds me of how my heart ached as I tried to figure out what to do for my son. I was dumbfounded that as a member of the Salt Lake County Council I didn’t know who to call.
Salt Lake County has helped fund the local crisis line, but we realized most people didn’t know that resource existed, nor did they have the phone number memorized. That’s why I was so excited when we launched a three-digit crisis line that would be easier to remember. Last month the number 9-8-8, a suicide prevention and mental health crisis line number, was rolled out nationwide.
What is the difference between 988 and 911? The 988 number serves as a suicide prevention and mental health crisis lifeline and is an access point to crisis resources such as Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams (MCOT). It is staffed by professionals and is confidential, free, and available 24/7.
The 911 number still serves as the emergency dispatch for public safety emergencies, medical emergencies, and law enforcement. If the public safety emergency is pertaining to someone who has a mental health condition, or appears to be experiencing a mental health crisis, a crisis intervention team (CIT) trained officer with basic training in mental health crises can be requested through 911 dispatch. It is also free and available 24/7.
The Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams (MCOT) are a critical resource to take the load off police officers to help solve mental health crises. These teams are made up of highly trained licensed mental health clinicians and certified peer support specialists. If someone has a mental health crisis, these teams can be dispatched to a home, school, or wherever needed. Their experts arrive in unmarked vehicles to support your privacy and can work with the person experiencing the crisis and help them find a resolution that doesn’t involve self-harm.
Right now we only have about half the number of MCOT teams necessary to help the public. I am on the State’s Behavioral Health Crisis Response Commission and I am pushing for additional state funding, as well as county funding, to fully operate these MCOT teams. I believe investment in MCOT teams is critical. We’ve already seen these teams in action in Salt Lake County saving lives, and I’m hopeful we will see increased access to this resource in the coming months.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. It’s important that we all know the resources available to help us or our loved ones. My heart aches for those of you who, like me, have had family or friends struggle with mental illness. It is so difficult and frustrating because it’s such a hard problem to solve. Hang in there, my friends. There are brighter days ahead and I know together we can break the stigma, advocate for additional resources, and become a safe place for others to go to for help.
I remember the year vividly. We were doing our annual 4th of July fireworks in our circle with neighbors gathered. My neighbor… we will call him “Frank” to protect his identity, brought forward his homemade mortar – complete with his self-built mortar launcher. Frank lit the fuse and we watched as the mortar launcher tipped over, sending the mortar shooting into the road and making the loudest explosion that has ever graced our little neighborhood fireworks party. It was so scary! What if a car had driven past right then? What if it tipped the other way and shot towards one of our homes, or worse yet towards all of us where we were all sitting with our kids?
Accidents with fireworks happen all the time. They can be made worse when you invite Frank to the party and he brings his homemade pyrotechnic creation, but still… they happen. Combine that with the dry brush from this year’s drought, and we have intense risk.
My brother-in-law used to work for VECC, the valley’s 911 dispatch center. He always dreaded the July holidays because the high volume of calls regarding fireworks made it so difficult for people to get through who were having life-threatening issues.
Because of the drought, Frank’s wild firework creations, and hearing my brother-in-law’s 911 stories, I decided last year that we were going to end the circle fireworks party. There are many better ways to celebrate the 4th and 24th.
The ongoing drought (ranging from severe to exceptional), more people living on the borders of wildland, and increased recreation in the canyons within Salt Lake County, elevates our fire risk. Prevention and mitigation are much preferred to having to respond to and recover from a fire. The drought has left our reservoirs and lakes at record lows, contributing to dry conditions and leaving firefighters with less water to combat fires.
It is vitally important that we be fire smart this summer. Small things can make a big difference. It is estimated that exercising sensible fire practices can prevent roughly 70 percent of Utah wildfires. These are things like discarding cigarettes in the proper receptacles, not driving over or parking your car on dry vegetation, and securing trailer chains to make sure they don’t drag and spark a fire. Use a mindful approach, such as only starting campfires in cement or metal firepits, never leaving them unattended, and fully drowning them until cool to the touch. Utahfireinfo.gov has even more information to consider for your summer plans.
Many residents celebrate the 4th and 24th of July with fireworks. Fireworks are a lot of fun, but I’d encourage you to attend professional fireworks shows instead of lighting your own. The professional shows have measures in place to ensure safety. I’m a big fan of liberty and freedom, but I’m also a big fan of personal responsibility, so join me in foregoing fireworks this year. Let’s be smart and be part of the solution!
Salt Lake County uses federal ARPA dollars for affordable housing, water conservation and workforce development
I believe one of the most important roles for an elected official is acting as a steward of your taxpayer dollars. Residents entrust us to judiciously use funds to perform essential functions for the community, and as such residents expect that every dollar spent by the government will be carefully scrutinized. I used these principles to cast my vote for the allocation of federal ARPA dollars, which included funding for affordable housing, water conservation, and workforce development. Included are some details about each of these projects.
These funds do not come from property or sales taxes. They are funds given to counties from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocated by the federal government. These funds are meant to support COVID-19 response efforts, replace lost public sector revenue, support immediate economic stabilization, and address systemic public health and economic challenges. They cannot be used to pay down debt, lower taxes or give refunds back to taxpayers.
We know affordable housing is a huge issue. In 2021 rental costs increased by 12 percent and homeownership costs increased by 28 percent. Low to moderate household incomes have experienced significant supply and cost barriers to access safe and affordable housing. We know there is a far greater cost to society if youth end up homeless because their families can’t afford a place to live. Homelessness disrupts educational opportunities and puts them at higher risk of ending up in jail or utilizing government welfare services. This would end up costing taxpayers more than an upfront investment. Stability is key to helping young people succeed.
The Salt Lake County Council allocated $20 million dollars to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This trust fund will leverage state and local government funding to preserve, construct, and assist 1,200 units of safe, affordable housing in Salt Lake County.
Utah is experiencing its worst drought in 50 years and water conservation is a top concern. The Salt Lake County Council allocated $2.1 million ARPA dollars to Integrated Water Conservation & Land Use Municipal Partnerships. Salt Lake County will partner with cities to implement approved water conservation plans.
The Salt Lake County Council invested $10 million dollars to implement the Workforce Inclusion and Successful Employment (WISE) program. This program is designed to identify effective solutions that empower lower income communities to get education, skills and training needed to engage in the workforce. It is the goal of the program that by 2026, a net tax impact will be shown by comparing WISE program expenses with tax savings achieved through (1) increased revenue due to higher salaries and (2) reduced expenses due to less need for government assistance.
Every vote I cast as a county council member comes after thoughtful consideration of how it will impact the county overall, as well the constituents whom I represent in this role. I believe these ARPA funds are a once in a generation opportunity to invest in projects that will provide better opportunities and outcomes for residents now and in the future.
If you’re like me, having a peaceful place to walk with your family, your dog, or even by yourself is a high priority. More trails for walking, running, and biking is something we hear over and over from county residents, so in February the Salt Lake County Council approved $10 million for the design and implementation of new trails throughout the valley!
In addition to the funds to build more trails, we also allocated $1 million for trail maintenance. Funds for these projects came from a designated fourth quarter choice transportation fund and were generated in 2019 through sales tax dollars specifically allocated for projects like this. Previous trail funding has come from a variety of sources including grants, UDOT, and collaboration with cities.
Salt Lake County already boasts some great trail options. The Jordan River Parkway is a north-south system of trails that parallel the Jordan River, connecting 45 miles through Salt Lake County. The trail further connects to neighboring counties, allowing for travel to Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake.
Parley’s Trail is the first east-west trail linking the Bonneville Shoreline trail on the east to the Jordan River Parkway to the west. The trail connects a variety of neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, Millcreek, South Salt Lake and West Valley City. The Bonneville Shoreline Trail is also continuing on the south end of the valley.
An option for those in the middle of the valley is using existing canal networks. The County has been able to obtain an executed trail agreement with some of the canal owners. This trail agreement allows Salt Lake County to use the canal maintenance road as public space for a trail. The canal company benefits from having their dirt maintenance road paved and the County provides a trail system that is separated from vehicle traffic. If the canal owner is not interested in entering into a trail agreement the County is unable to use the space as a trail, but we don’t give up easily!
Future trail development is dictated by the countywide regional trails master plan. The first master plan was completed in 1993. An updated countywide regional trail master plan is planned for 2023 and from that point forward the plan will be updated every 10 years.
Having a robust trail system throughout the Salt Lake Valley benefits everyone. More open space will expand access and raise the quality of life for all of us. The past two years have taught us the importance of prioritizing our mental and social health. Being outdoors is a natural antidepressant as sunshine naturally increases serotonin and endorphins that boost energy and reduce pain. I hope you’ll take some time to enjoy the Salt Lake County trail system and all the benefits it has to offer.
December wrapped up the Salt Lake County annual budget process and there is great news for taxpayers–no tax increase! There is more great news as the council allocated additional funding for public safety.
Over 70 percent of our nearly $500 million general fund budget goes to criminal justice. Salt Lake County runs the jail, operates behavioral health services, prosecutes criminals, and has a contract for indigent defense for those who can’t afford to defend themselves.
Some of our criminal justice expenses have increased. With the current job market, we are struggling to find and retain enough corrections officers in the jail. The council increased wages for workers in the jail in the 2022 budget.
Another criminal justice program set to launch in 2022 is the Jail Resource Reentry program. The broad goals of this program are reduction of disruptive behavior in the community after someone is released from jail. Improvement of the individual’s physical and social status and a decrease in the likelihood that the person will re-offend and reappear in the jail is the top priority. The program will concentrate on high-risk inmates being released that are homeless, mentally ill and/or suffer from substance abuse addiction to provide basic critical needs and referral to treatment. Criminal Justice Services and the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association will provide basic services, mental health and substance abuse referral services, case management, and legal services.
The County Council voted to allocate $500,000 to a new Smart Government and Efficiency Fund (SGE Fund). The purpose of this initiative is to fund ideas that demonstrate a strong return on investment, reduce operating costs, generate new revenue, and/or improve public service delivery to Salt Lake County residents. The SGE Fund establishes seed money to turn a good idea into a reality. If we do not receive ideas that meet funding criteria as outlined in this proposal, the money goes unspent and is returned to the general fund.
This year the County Council added some additional positions in the health department and voted to reduce the proposed budget for the Mayor’s administration in two areas. Two vacant positions were eliminated resulting in a savings of $180,000. Additionally, the Mayor’s contribution budget was reduced by $17,000. The County Council also evaluated their own office with a critical eye and removed two full time vacant positions from their budget.
It’s hard work to go through the second largest government budget in Utah (second only to the state budget), but I love the opportunity to do so on behalf of my constituents. Every vote I cast as a county council member comes after thoughtful consideration of how it will impact the county overall, as well the constituents whom I represent in this role. I don’t believe government can or should be everything to everyone. It should have a limited role. I also believe that it makes sense to invest in programs that will save taxpayer funds down the road, and ensure we provide good service and keep our facilities well maintained. Our economy remains strong when we practice fiscal restraint and help you keep as much of your money in your pocket as possible.
Every 10 years the U.S Census Bureau does a count of the number of people living in the United States. Understanding the population numbers helps the federal government know how to more equitably distribute funding, but these numbers are also used to help with redistricting. Allocating the 435 congressional House seats based on populations is an important part of this process, but so is drawing new boundaries for congressional, legislative, council, school boards and other districts based on the census results.
You may have heard in the news the results of the state’s efforts to redistrict, including the four new congressional boundaries, state school board, and state House and Senate boundaries. Many don’t realize that in Salt Lake County we implement a similar process to draw boundaries for the six county council districts, as well as the school districts.
When this redistricting process occurs, the Salt Lake County Council utilizes a seven member independent redistricting commission to provide boundary recommendations for the six Salt Lake County districts. Earlier this year, the County Council conducted an application process where interested parties could apply to be appointed to the independent redistricting commission. From these applications the County Council chose and appointed seven commissioners to the county’s independent redistricting committee.
Utilizing the new U.S. Census Bureau data, the Salt Lake County Redistricting Commission was tasked with creating new district maps to rebalance the population growth that Salt Lake County has experienced in the last 10 years. In addition, the Commission also aimed to create maps that avoided the displacement of current County Council Members, aligned district boundaries with jurisdictional boundaries of municipalities and townships as much as possible, and included at least two jurisdictions within each district.
This committee was asked to present new map options to the County Council by December. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the publication of census data until September which meant the redistricting commission had to produce maps under a very compressed time frame.
In November the Salt Lake County Redistricting Commission presented three maps to the Salt Lake County Council. On Nov. 16, 2021, the County Council unanimously approved one of these maps that closely adhered to the current district boundaries. The new districts will take effect Jan. 1, 2022.
(See new redistricted boundaries in Salt Lake County. The black lines represent existing district boundaries, and the colored sections represent the newly approved boundaries.)
Every fall, Salt Lake County goes through its annual budget process. As the government entity with the second largest government budget in Utah (coming behind only the state budget itself), there are a myriad of programs, services, and expenditures that comprise the now roughly $1.5 billion budget.
On October 21st, Mayor Wilson presented her proposed budget to the county council. In subsequent weeks council members have the opportunity to review all new budgetary requests, ongoing expenditures, and any reinstatement of funding previously cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year the County will also review budgetary requests for funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Salt Lake County is a direct recipient of these federal dollars provided to support COVID-19 response efforts, replace lost public sector revenue, support immediate economic stabilization, and address systemic public health and economic challenges.
One of the most important parts of being an elected official is acting as a steward of taxpayer dollars. Residents entrust those who run the government to judiciously use their tax dollars to perform essential functions for the community, and as such residents expect that every dollar spent by the government will be carefully scrutinized.
Here are some key principles I prioritize during the budget process, this year included.
First and foremost, tax dollars don’t “belong” to the county. The funds are yours. Taxpayers entrust the county, or any government for that matter, with a portion of their hard-earned money because they expect that entity to provide essential services for society to function.
Second, I believe that all government functions should be viewed in two different categories: “need to have” and “nice to have.”
The “need to have” list includes things that are statutorily required of the county to perform, think constitutionally mandated services such as criminal justice and election administration. I also consider public safety to be in this category, since keeping our residents safe is a core function of government. However, just because they are essential does not mean they are above scrutiny. Efficiencies can still be found.
The “nice to have” list includes quality of life services the county provides, as well as any other program or initiative that can easily be described as a benefit to county residents, but not necessarily considered essential. Libraries and open space are some of the things in this category.
Lastly, I review each aspect of our budget and ask, “Is this the proper role of county government?” There are many programs or services that are better suited to other government entities, nonprofits, or the private sector. It is always important to review each program, service, or expenditure and ask that question again and again.
I’m confident that these principles are the essence of good budgeting and fiscal discipline, and I will always advocate for this approach any time the government is entrusted with taxpayer dollars.
This past month I had the opportunity to meet with a constituent to walk around Swensen Valley Regional Park and hear issues of concern. I brought our Parks and Rec team along and we were thrilled to have the Mayor also join us. Our parks have been well loved the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic as people looked for opportunities to get out of the house.
Community park spaces are a convenient, accessible place for residents to improve their quality of life. Proven benefits from time spent in parks include improved mental health, decreased blood pressure, and increased physical activity levels. Furthermore, parks improve air and water quality and can even increase property values.
Many residents have said they enjoy the benefits of outdoor spaces in the company of their dogs. Dogs are allowed at all Salt Lake County parks provided they are on a leash which is controlled by the owner. In addition, there are other dog parks around the valley such as Millrace, Tanner, Sandy, Cottonwood and West Jordan Off-Leash Dog Park. The County also has an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service's Millcreek Canyon that allows dogs off-leash on the canyon trails on odd numbered days.
Salt Lake County maintains more than 70 parks throughout the valley, ranging from small neighborhood parks to large regional parks, In 2020 Salt Lake County experienced a record number of people utilizing parks to recreate or as a respite from “home offices”. Currently, the number of people visiting Salt Lake County parks remains higher than pre-COVID numbers.
County staff had the challenge of maintaining the parks with high usage while also facing a reduction in our operation budget. Both the county general fund and the TRCC (tourism, recreation, culture, convention) fund were forced to take drastic cuts which impacted Parks and Recreation’s level of service. Revenue from the TRCC fund comes from tourism - restaurants, car rentals and hotels. You can imagine how much this fund suffered during COVID when convention centers were not operating.
Park visitors may have noticed drier grass in the parks this summer. Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation implemented water conservation practices during the current drought conditions. Watering times in all parks, especially in passive areas that don’t get as much foot traffic, were reduced. The grass has been allowed to go dormant in order to reduce water consumption. Yellow is the new green, right?
Additionally, irrigation systems have been upgraded to smart irrigation systems over the last few years. Smart irrigation systems monitor the weather and the moisture content in the ground to provide data on exactly how much water is needed in each park.
As the seasons change, I hope you’ll take advantage of the many personal and community benefits that are offered by our County parks.
For a complete list of park locations, services, and amenities, please visit slco.org/parks.
Growing up in Salt Lake County, I always took our libraries for granted. I assumed every county had the same great system where you can pick a book up from one location and drop it at another, and have access to so many items--over 2 million! I realized how much the library affected people’s lives after one of my friends moved out of Salt Lake County and told me how much she missed our library system.
Over 15 million items are circulated per year in our library system. Besides books, the Salt Lake County Library System has audiobooks, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. The library also has eBooks and eAudiobooks available for download. But did you know the County Library also has a wide range of nontraditional items?
The Library of Things Collection allows you to borrow useful things for your home, projects, and adventures with a collection of items you might not expect to find at a library. Here are six things that I bet you didn’t know the library offered:
1. Portable hotspots provide free, unlimited high-speed internet access from almost anywhere when using a WiFi-enabled device such as a phone, tablet, or laptop.
2. Chromebooks are portable devices to help you easily access the web, use Gmail and YouTube, or create documents and spreadsheets using Google Docs.
3. Launchpad Tablets are durable and portable tablets with pre-installed apps that support early learning through games and play, with no access to the internet required.
4. Storytime To Go Kits include books, activity sheets, and physical objects for learning and discovery.
5. Preserve the Memory Equipment helps you transfer your old film negatives, VHS tapes, slides, and more to new media formats.
6. Telescopes allow you to explore space from the comfort of your own backyard. This lending program is made possible through a partnership with the Salt Lake Astronomical Society.
Currently, the Holladay, Kearns, Magna, and Sandy branches have a “Create Space” where County residents can use a variety of creativity and technology tools. Two more Create Spaces are planned in the future Daybreak and Granite branches. Not only can these help both children and adults with business ventures and educational opportunities, but here are five things that can be fun to use:
1. The Holladay, Kearns, and Magna branches have studios customized with equipment and software. Technology varies but can include podcast recording tools, musical instruments, a green screen for video production, and more. 2. The Kearns branch has a specialized bicycle manual for bicycle maintenance and repair, along with an extensive library of tools and workspace.
3. Create your own three-dimensional object using free software from home or browse ready-made files. Create branches have 3D printers available, with larger maximum build volume printers at Sandy and Kearns.
4. Design, cut, and engrave your own Proofgrade materials with a 40 watt CO2 laser cutter or cut and engrave vinyl, paper, and fabrics with the Cricut Design Space.
5. A variety of machines for sewing, embroidery, and serging, plus dress forms and other accessories are available.
The Salt Lake County Library branches are vibrant and energized spaces with over 4.5 million in-person visitors and tens of millions virtual visitors annually. Libraries have an enormous impact on our community through inspiring imagination and satisfying curiosity. For more information on all the great resources our library has to offer, visit our website at slcolibrary.org.
Did you get your property tax statement and feel overwhelmed trying to understand it? Every year we get calls from residents who need help making sense of their tax statement, so here is some info that might be useful.
The county treasurer is responsible to collect taxes for over 70 different entities, not just Salt Lake County. That means that your city/township, school district, water districts, and other entities show up on your property tax statement. Once we get the money, we distribute it to the different taxing entities.
The Salt Lake County assessor oversees the assessment of your property value. Once your value is assessed, then the tax rate is applied to that amount. If you think your assessed value is incorrect, you can appeal it between August 1 – September 15. Just go to slco.org/tax-administration/how-to-file-an-appeal to see instructions.
One great thing about our state is that Truth-in-Taxation is required. That means you will be notified if a government entity is trying to raise your taxes. My property tax notice, for instance, showed an increase with my school district and two of the water districts. It also shows when the public hearing will be held so government officials can hear from you.
Just because a tax rate stays the same, doesn’t mean your taxes won’t increase. After your property is assessed, the county adds in additional growth and then divides all the property values by the proposed budget amount. That is how we get the tax rate. Government cannot collect more than what they did the previous year without a Truth-in-Taxation hearing.
If property values and growth are going up, your tax rate would go down if there was no additional tax increase. When taxing entities tell you the rate hasn’t changed, that still could mean a tax increase from that entity. Don’t worry, though… it should be crystal clear on your property tax statement if it’s an increase. If there is a public meeting, that entity is raising your taxes this year.
If you find yourself falling on hard times and need some tax relief, you can apply to the Treasurer’s office for a few different programs designed to help. The programs are as follows:
Circuit Breaker– 66 years old or surviving spouse with household income below $34,666.
Indigent – 65 years old or disabled with household income plus adjusted assets below $34,666.
Hardship – Extreme financial hardship at any age with adjusted household income plus assets that do not exceed $34,666. This limit is increased by $4,480 for each household member.
There are also programs to help veterans. Visit slco.org/treasurer for details. Although paying property taxes is not pleasant for anyone, keep in mind the many services that our cities, counties, school districts, water districts, and even the mosquito abatement district provides. And don’t hesitate to get involved in these government entities. The more that people get involved, the more taxes stay in check.
Aimee Winder Newton has served since 2014 and represents Taylorsville, Murray, West Jordan, and West Valley City on the Salt Lake County Council. She was a former 2020 Republican candidate for Utah Governor and was the first woman elected as chair of the Council. Aimee works tirelessly to defend the quality of life in Salt Lake County while protecting tax dollars... [read more]
|Aimee Winder Newton||
aimee winder newton: County Council district 3