This is the first in a series of articles where I will answer specific constituent questions about the issues facing Salt Lake County. A few weeks ago, I invited followers on social media to submit questions, and multiple people asked about homelessness and what the county is doing to address it.
Homelessness is an extremely complex issue without a one-size-fits-all solution. Given that its cause stems from an array of contributing factors, including mental illness, substance abuse, job loss, lack of affordable housing, disabilities, and many more, identifying solutions to meet the needs of Utahns experiencing homelessness is a monumental task.
According to the State’s Annual Report on Homelessness, Utah’s 2023 Point-in-Time (PIT) metric for counting homelessness saw an increase in the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. In 2022, of the 7,619 people who enrolled in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or a permanent housing project, 53% of them were experiencing homelessness for the very first time in their lives.
Salt Lake County is part of a growing coalition of elected officials, city and state government agencies, business owners, and community organizations working to find lasting solutions and implement the best practices to end homelessness. The result is a robust homeless service system that unites communities and service providers in profoundly new ways. Our shared vision is “to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring so that all people experiencing homelessness can thrive to their fullest potential and that our communities are stable and safe for everyone.”
As a collective effort, Salt Lake County helped establish the plan to provide overflow shelter and resources this winter to add 695 beds for Utahns experiencing homelessness.
Under a 2023 state law, Salt Lake County implemented Code Blue Alerts. The alerts are issued when temperatures are expected to drop to dangerous levels of 15 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill for 2 hours or more during a 24-hour period.
Once an alert is issued, designated shelters across the county expand their services, increase capacity, and expedite intake processes. Additionally, outreach teams increase efforts to transport individuals to resource facilities. This valuable program provides 235 beds in Salt Lake County.
While the government is responding to the homeless situation by enforcing “no camping” ordinances, there are other things needed upstream to prevent homelessness. Affordable housing is key. The county contributed Federal American Rescue Plan (ARPA) dollars to approve over 200 affordable units over the last two years. There are also needed resources for those with mental health and substance abuse issues. The county is working closely with the state on a new model to improve our homelessness situation.
Though the homelessness situation is incredibly complicated, we are working hard to find solutions – both in preventing homelessness and helping those struggling to find a path to self-sufficiency.
Changes to the Unified Police Department are coming. Some of the information out there has not been entirely accurate, so I thought it might be helpful to share some insight. This past legislative session, state legislators decided to remove language about the Unified Police Department (UPD) from state statute. This meant UPD would need to operate by interlocal only, and without the state giving specific guidelines.
This legislation originally removed the county sheriff as the CEO of UPD, as many cities questioned whether it was a conflict of interest with the sheriff wearing two hats. But when the sheriff’s association and Sheriff Rivera met with the legislative sponsor, they supported just removing the UPD language altogether from state code.
Unified Police Department is a governmental agency created by interlocal agreement. It serves areas such as Millcreek, Holladay, Midvale, unincorporated Salt Lake County, and the townships. The board can choose their CEO, but for years they have just kept the county sheriff as the CEO. This has created some heartburn for cities not in UPD who wonder if there is appropriate financial separation between UPD and the countywide sheriff services. I have also been asked about this and have been participating on a committee to gather more information.
All of our county residents receive great countywide public safety services from the sheriff’s office. Some of these countywide services include the statutory duties of the sheriff, such as operations of the jail, warrants and extraditions, and search and rescue. There are additional countywide services that provide a countywide benefit such as drug court, metro gangs, major investigations and drug enforcement, and canyon patrol.
For those who are UPD officers or live in UPD service areas, rest assured that leaders from Millcreek, Midvale, Holladay and other areas are working hard to ensure UPD remains a stable and top-notch police agency to take care of your needs. There will just be one difference and that is a cleaner separation between your policing agency and the county sheriff who represents all areas of the valley. I believe this will give UPD a better chance to grow and thrive. It will also help other police agencies rest assured that there are no conflicts of interest, and all agencies will be represented well by the sheriff’s office.
As a Salt Lake County Councilmember, I believe funding transparency is vitally important for all county services. This is especially true as it relates to law enforcement services that are provided on a countywide basis. The tax dollars used for these services come from residents and all taxpayers throughout the county. When deciding which programs to fund on a countywide basis I provide careful consideration to determine the usefulness of these services to your community, if the current resource allocations and service levels are appropriate, and the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the programs.
With the final approval of the 2021 Salt Lake County budget drawing near, I wanted to share some of the proactive steps we have taken as your County Council to tighten up spending.
In June, because of concerns surrounding revenue impacts from COVID-19, we scoured our budget to find as many cuts as possible – leading to a massive $77 million budget reduction. Because of all the cuts we made in June, and because sales tax revenue did not fall as much as we anticipated, we ultimately had a fairly uneventful budget season.
As we strive to be as fiscally prudent as possible, one of our top priorities is maintaining our AAA bond rating. We are one of only 27 counties in the entire nation with this highest-achievable bond rating. Keeping this bond rating results in much lower interest rates on bonds and loans.
Here are some key principles I have always prioritized 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. There is no amount of tax dollars that is too small to be scrutinized. That is why I push back aggressively anytime I hear someone flippantly say, “It’s only x dollars… so we shouldn’t worry about it.”
Any expenditure, whether it is $10 or $10 million, should be reviewed, and if it can’t be fully justified to the taxpayers, it should be cut.
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 obviously 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 the “need to have” 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, because 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 some of the things in this category.
The separation of these two categories demonstrates the same principle that every family in our county goes through in their annual budgets. They strive to live within their means and focus on essential family expenditures sometimes at the expense of luxuries.
Lastly, I review each aspect of our budget and ask, “Is this the proper role of county government?” I’ve said many times that government can’t and shouldn’t be all things to all people. There are many programs or services that are better suited to other government entities, nonprofits, or the private sector. Particularly in a tight budget year, it’s 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 government is entrusted with taxpayer dollars. You can rest assured that for 2021, Salt Lake County has a balanced budget with no tax increase.
If you're like me you are ready for some bright May sunshine after a winter of record breaking snowpack and a very snowy spring. While I’m excited for the sunshine, warmer temperatures also means we begin the season of spring runoff and possible flooding. Spring Runoff, where the creeks swell from snow melt, typically occurs from April to July. Because of our extreme snowpack this year we are at greater risk for flooding, especially if temperatures rise quickly and cause rapid melt.
This past month Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson declared a flooding emergency as we saw heavy runoff and flooding in some areas. If you are looking to help fill sandbags, pick up free sandbags, or get tips and information on how to protect your property, visit the Salt Lake County Emergency Management website at slcoem.org.
When properly placed, sandbags can help redirect storm and debris flows away from property. A list of sandbag locations along with instructions on the proper use of sandbags are also available on the Salt Lake County Emergency Management website.
It’s important to take precautions and be prepared. Inspect your rain gutters and downspouts and confirm that they are clear of snow and debris. Be sure storm drains closest to your home and the areas around them are clear of any debris. Pay attention to your landscaping, making sure water drains away from your home.
Keep children and pets away from potential flood and drainage areas. Rain on low-elevation valley snow can melt it quickly and increase runoff along streets and roadways. Shallow flooding of parking lots, roadways, and intersections could be possible. Watch out for surface runoff and shallow sheet flooding from snow-covered open areas of land or driveways that slope toward a home or residence.
If flooding occurs, evacuate immediately, if told to do so. Never drive around barricades. Local responders use them to safely direct traffic out of flooded areas. Do not walk, swim, or drive through flood waters. Listen to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio or local alerting systems for current emergency information and instructions regarding flooding.
If you see flooding contact city officials as local roadways, intersections, or parking lots are the responsibility of your city. Residents should engage their city resources for local drainage problems. If the debris is in a river, creek, stream, or canal, contact SLCO Flood Control at 385-468-6600
After the last several years of drought, this spring runoff can be helpful to offset the decreased levels in our lakes and reservoirs. And luckily our state and county are prepared to react quickly to any flooding issues.
Lastly, I’m grateful we live in a community where neighbors are willing to help each other. We’ve already seen hundreds of volunteers out filling sandbags and pitching in to help place sandbags. Whatever our spring runoff brings, we will be ready!
Who loves getting their property tax statement each year? Yeah, me neither. In addition to fighting to keep your taxes low, I am also looking for more efficient ways to use the dollars we are given. But I often think about those on fixed incomes or struggling to make ends meet. When these people receive their property tax statements, it can be overwhelming. The Salt Lake County Council wants to ensure everyone receives information about potential property tax relief and has taken measures to better inform you.
Each July the Salt Lake County Auditor sends a Notice of Valuation to Salt Lake County property owners that includes information about the current assessed value of your home or business. This year you may notice new information that is included with this statement regarding tax relief programs for eligible residents.
In order to increase public awareness and recognize that eligible taxpayers would likely benefit from receiving earlier notice about these programs, the Salt Lake County Council recently approved funding to include an informational Tax Relief card with the annual Notice of Valuation statement. The hope is this notification will provide taxpayers enough notice to meet the September 1st application deadline for these programs.
If you own and occupy a home or mobile home you may be eligible for property tax relief or deferment. A quick overview of the following eligibility screening may help see if you meet the initial requirements. Additional requirement for each specific program could apply:
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.
For frequently asked questions and additional details regarding your Notice of Valuation statement please visit slco.org/property-tax/notice-of-valuation/
For additional information regarding tax relief programs in Salt Lake County please visit slco.org/treasurer/tax-relief/ or call 385-468-8300.
I’m grateful we can give relief to those who need it, but I also firmly believe that the best way we can help all residents is to trim our budgets and then be as efficient as possible with the dollars we are given.
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 collects taxes for over 70 different entities, not just Salt Lake County. That means your city/township, school district, water districts, and other entities appear on your property tax statement. Once we get the money, we distribute it to the different taxing entities.
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. This concept is all about transparency and making sure the government is open and honest about how your tax dollars are being used. Taxation is necessary for funding various public services, such as schools, parks, roads and public safety. But as taxpayers, it’s crucial for you to know where your hard-earned money is going.
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.
As part of this process, governmental agencies are required to hold public hearings to discuss tax-related matters. These hearings are an excellent opportunity for you to voice your opinions and concerns regarding how tax dollars should be allocated. But how do you find out when these hearings are taking place? That’s where your notice of valuation comes in.
Notice of valuation is a document sent to homeowners that provides information about the assessed value of their property. It’s an important notice because it includes details about upcoming hearings related to property taxes. These hearings give you the chance to speak up and let your elected officials know what you think about the tax rates and how they affect you.
So, why is it important for you to notice when public hearings are available and take the opportunity to comment? Well, simply put, it’s your chance to be heard. By attending these hearings or submitting comments, you can influence the decisions that impact your community and your wallet. Your voice matters, and by actively participating, you can help shape the future of taxation in Salt Lake County.
Remember, your voice matters, and by participating in the process, you can help shape a fair and transparent system that benefits everyone in Salt Lake County. Together, we can create positive change and ensure our tax dollars are used wisely.
In a recent national study, a concerning trend has come to light within our police departments. Law Enforcement agencies across the country are facing challenges in recruiting new officers, and what's more, a growing number of officers are opting to leave their positions or retire earlier than expected (Source: Police Executive Research Forum).
We know that when a police force is stretched thin, struggling to respond promptly to emergencies and investigate crimes, it impacts our community’s safety. The heart of effective policing lies in the experience and expertise of our officers. If we find ourselves with a shortage of seasoned officers, it could affect the quality of training, decision-making, and overall effectiveness of law enforcement agencies.
The life of a police officer is anything but easy. They face a multitude of demands, carrying the weight of public expectations on their shoulders. Every day, they confront challenging, and sometimes heart-wrenching, situations. It's important to recognize that amidst the stress, many officers are driven by a genuine desire to make a positive impact in their communities. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that prolonged exposure to stressors can take a toll on their mental well-being, leading to burnout and other health issues. We must stand together to support their journey toward mental wellness.
As a society, it is our responsibility to treat our police officers with empathy and respect. While constructive feedback is valuable, it's equally important to remember that the weight of their responsibilities can impact their mental health. Demonstrating appreciation and understanding will go a long way in boosting their morale and overall well-being.
Police officers are not just symbols in uniform – they are individuals with families, emotions, and aspirations. The pressures they face on the job can ripple into their personal lives, affecting their relationships and overall happiness. Recognizing their humanity and the toll their profession takes on their mental health enables us to build a community that truly values those who safeguard us.
Challenges police officers endure are immense, often exposing them to traumatic events and high-stress situations. Research indicates that police officers are more susceptible to mental health struggles compared to the general population.
As a united community, we can make a difference by offering support for the emotional well-being of our police officers. Express your gratitude for their dedication and support programs focusing on mental health training for both officers and the public. Educate yourself and those around you about recognizing signs of mental health issues and providing a compassionate hand.
By standing together, we can ignite a positive transformation. Let's prioritize the mental well-being of our law enforcement officers, ensuring they have the necessary support and resources to thrive personally and professionally. In doing so, we fortify our police force, cultivating safer and stronger communities for all.
As 2023 closes, I am thrilled to share some remarkable accomplishments that highlight the progress and success that Salt Lake County has experienced over the past year. From the pristine trails, the compassionate care for our furry friends, and an emphasis on mental health resources, Salt Lake County has truly shone in its commitment to excellence.
One of the standout achievements is the recent inauguration of the Butterfield Canyon Trail at the Butterfield Trailhead Regional Park. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation, Rio Tinto Kennecott, and the Bureau of Land Management, we cut the ribbon on this expansive trail on August 31, 2023. This trail, spanning 14 miles, showcases our dedication to outdoor recreation, and welcomes hikers, equestrians, trail runners, and mountain bikers alike.
When it comes to animal welfare, we take immense pride in Animal Services achieving a decade of no-kill status. We stand as the first capital area to reach this milestone, and one of the pioneers nationwide. Additionally, Animal Services has been recognized as the best in the state for the 15th time, showcasing our ongoing dedication to the well-being of our community's animals.
The Huntsman Mental Health Institute’s Receiving Center bridge program is now open, thanks to funding from Salt Lake County. This expansion increases access for mental health needs in our community, providing crucial support and resources for those who need it most. This location will provide service until the new mental health crisis center opens in 2025.
Our Salt Lake County Library has gained national recognition from the National Association of Counties, honoring the outstanding services and resources it provides to our residents. This acknowledgment reinforces the importance of education, literacy, and community engagement.
Let's not forget the heartwarming success of the Meals on Wheels program, delivering nourishment and companionship to those in need. By the end of the year Salt Lake County will have delivered more than 375,000 meals. This invaluable service supports all members of our community who may be vulnerable or isolated.
Addressing the pressing issue of jail services, we acknowledge the need for expansion. As we grow and evolve, it is essential to ensure the safety and well-being of our community members.
In terms of fiscal responsibility, Salt Lake County has balanced its budget while maintaining a AAA bond rating. This achievement reflects our commitment to sound financial management, ensuring stability and security for our community.
Our convention centers, the Salt Palace Convention Center and the MACU Expo Center, have hosted a multitude of successful events, attracting visitors and revenue to our community. These venues continue to be vital components of our local economy and end up saving taxpayer dollars as we generate sales tax revenue from out-of-town guests.
As we think about all these great things we've done, let's remember how strong and connected Salt Lake County is. We are lucky to live in this beautiful, vibrant place!
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending several swearing-in ceremonies for newly elected city officials in my district. I watched individuals of various ages, demographics, and backgrounds take an oath of office and assume the role of public servants.
I couldn’t help but think this is exactly what our founding fathers envisioned--a government by and for the people, accessible to those willing to serve and citizens who can select leaders representing their interests.
In almost every ceremony, these elected officials thanked supporters who knocked on doors, distributed fliers, hung signs, and helped get out the vote. I was humbled thinking about the same support I have received over the years.
As Utahns, our engagement doesn’t need to end at the ballot box. There are countless ways that we can continue to help influence decisions to reflect our interests and values. What can you do to stay involved and ensure your voice gets heard? Here are five easy things to remember.
Every year, my fellow council members and I are tasked with setting and approving the yearly budget for the county. My constituents have entrusted me to scrutinize every dollar spent defending programs that will improve Salt Lake County residents' safety and quality of life.
This year, the Salt Lake County Council unanimously approved the county’s 2024 budget, with no tax increase. I am proud to say that the approved budget contains wide-ranging cuts, expanded services for mental health resources, investments in our parks, trails, and recreation centers, and continued funding for libraries, health clinics, and aging services like Meals on Wheels.
The top priority of the Salt Lake County Council continues to be public safety. While identifying this year’s budget cuts, we ensured adequate funding for the jail, prosecution, behavioral health, and areas that keep our community safe and healthy.
I’m thrilled to share a few budget-approved initiatives that every Salt Lake County resident should know about, especially those with school-age children under 18.
We welcome the opportunity for Salt Lake County school-aged children to engage in healthy activities while fostering a sense of community. Reading books, connecting with others, and participating in physical exercise are all important things to help our kids grow up healthy and happy.
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