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.
When Governor Cox asked all of us to pray for rain several weeks ago, my family and I talked about additional ways we could do our part. We made the decision to turn off the water while brushing our teeth, shorten our showers, and only water our lawn twice per week. We also made the decision not to do fireworks this year because of all the dry brush and potential impact on resources should something go awry.
Most of Utah is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. As Governor Cox explained recently, this is either the worst drought since 1956 or the worst drought ever. We have seen our reservoirs and lakes at record lows. In addition to the little precipitation over the last year to refill our lake and rivers, we also have more people than ever consuming water in this state. Luckily Utah has done a great job of planning for the future; but if we don’t cut back on water usage this year, we may find ourselves in a position where we will need to ration water in future years.
Little things make a big difference when it comes to water conservation. There are things you can do like not letting the water run full blast while brushing your teeth or washing your pets near vegetation to get a secondary benefit. Utah’s slowtheflow.org has great advice for how to act during a drought. I found very helpful their tips on lawn management, namely: 1) water your lawn twice a week, 2) don’t water if it’s windy, 3) water in the evening or before 10 a.m., 4) prioritize your watering in the following order: trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, grass, and 5) raise your mower to leave your grass longer. You should also check out utahwatersavers.com, where you can find details on rebate programs for taking all sorts of water wise steps. While I can understand the desire to have the greenest lawn in the neighborhood, this year it’s cool to have yellow or brown lawn. You are showing your neighbors that you care about them and are conscientious water consumers during the drought.
Paired with being water wise is being fire smart this summer. This includes the small things, like discarding of cigarettes in the proper receptacle and not driving over or parking your car on dry vegetation. It also includes the more mindful things, like only starting campfires in cement or metal firepits, never leaving them unattended, and fulling drowning them until cool to the touch. Utahfireinfo.gov has even more information to consider for your summer plans. Lastly, consider going to a planned city fireworks show for the holidays rather than having your own fireworks. It saves money, and it’s much safer since local fire departments are onsite at those planned fireworks shows.
Usually on the 4th and 24th of July we get together with neighbors and light fireworks in our circle. Not this year. Due to the high risks that fireworks pose, we will be having a barbecue and playing games to celebrate the holidays. I’m a big fan of liberty and freedom, but I’m also a big fan of personal responsibility, so join me in watching your water usage and forgoing fireworks this year. Let’s be smart and be part of the solution!
There is great satisfaction in successfully providing for oneself and one’s family, but when someone falls upon hard times, short-term government assistance can be helpful to get residents back on their feet. We must recognize, however, that government assistance shouldn’t be relied upon forever, and that helping people find jobs and contribute to their community is vital for them and the rest of us. We need the expertise and skills that our Salt Lake County residents have to offer.
In the midst of the pandemic, when joblessness was on the rise, the federal government took measures to subsidize state unemployment payments across the nation. This was intended to keep jobless individuals and families afloat during a time of economic uncertainty. While some states are still struggling, Utah is performing exceptionally well. Our unemployment rates are among the lowest in the nation, and we are one of two states that actually had a net gain in jobs in 2020. In fact, many businesses are struggling to find employees to fill their open positions as they reopen and strive to return to pre-pandemic levels of business. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many “Help Wanted” signs and advertisements before.
Because of the economic trajectory of our state, Governor Spencer Cox recently discontinued Utah’s participation in those earlier mentioned federal unemployment subsidies. This was done, in part, to combat what are called “perverse incentives,” meaning incentives that attempt to solve a problem but actually prolong or worsen the problems they are meant to solve. In this case, federal unemployment subsidies were intended to help those who could not find employment, but by continuing these benefits in good economic times, we would be disincentivizing those who are unemployed from finding gainful employment in a strong job market. We want government to avoid perverse incentives, and instead encourage people to find a long-term path to success.
There are certainly extenuating circumstances that make it difficult for people to work, but for those who can work, please know that there are plenty of people hiring and you are most certainly wanted! If you are looking for a job, I encourage you to check out any number of job posting websites. You can visit the state’s employment website at jobs.utah.gov and see if there’s a good fit for you. Our workforce is better with you in it. Our quality of life is better when we take an active role in contributing to our families, neighborhoods and communities.
Toward the end of Utah’s 2021 General Legislative Session, a bill was passed signaling the end of mask mandates across the state. House Bill 294 stated that all COVID-19 public health orders statewide would come to an end once three criteria were met: 1) the state's 14-day case rate is less than 191 per 100,000 people, 2) the statewide seven-day average COVID-19 ICU utilization is less than 15 percent, and 3) 1,633,000 prime doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been allocated to the state. Additionally, House Bill 294 provided that all blanket mask mandates would expire on April 10, 2021. If the state failed to meet any of the three criteria, however, then local health departments could recommend a mask mandate for their jurisdiction, subject to the approval of the jurisdiction’s legislative body.
As we approached April 10, the Salt Lake County Council received hundreds of emails from constituents on both sides of the issue – requesting that the Council either vote to extend or not to extend the mask mandate in Salt Lake County. It also became clear that the state as a whole would satisfy only two out of the three criteria, and therefore a mask mandate could be recommended by the county health department, pending the approval of the county council. For us, that meant we would await the recommendation of Salt Lake County Health Director Gary Edwards, and then determine the county’s next steps.
The Council received a letter from Edwards on April 7, in which he stated he did not believe a mask mandate was necessary and that he would not be recommending a mask mandate for Salt Lake County. Because state legislation said that the council could only consider a mandate if the health department director recommended one, the Council did not have action to consider. The mask mandate ended in Salt Lake County as state law dictated.
At a recent press conference, the County Council emphasized the need for vigilance as we continue to fight against the spread of COVID-19. The vaccine will help us return to normal. I’ve been fully vaccinated and recommend that residents get their vaccine as soon as possible. I also hope we can all be considerate and mindful of others. If you are around people in a confined space and you don’t know if they have been vaccinated, please wear your mask. While masks are not required by the State of Utah or the Salt Lake County Health Department, individual business and property owners have the right to require masks on their property. Please be respectful. I support these businesses and their right to require a mask to help protect their employees and customers. The Utah Board of Education has also not lifted its requirement that masks be worn in schools. Additionally, masks are still required by the state in gatherings larger than 50 people. In places where masks are not required, let’s not judge those who choose to wear a mask or those who feel comfortable not wearing one. We need civility right now more than ever!
I am looking forward to seeing this pandemic end. I know we are all tired and ready to get back to normal. Please remember that just because the mask mandate is over, it does not mean the pandemic is over. Please be safe, respectful, and continue to sanitize. We will get through this together!
Aimee Winder Newton has been serving on the Salt Lake County Council since January 2014. She is the current chair of the council. Her district encompasses Murray, Taylorsville, West Valley City and West Jordan, and a small portion of South Salt Lake and Millcreek... [read more]
|Aimee Winder Newton||
aimee winder newton: County Council district 3