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!
The other day I was talking with my husband and we were both commenting on how we’ve felt a bit of depression set in from this long COVID year. We all need human interaction to thrive, and with health challenges, financial pressures, political unrest, and so much uncertainty, it’s no wonder that many of us feel a little down. I wanted to share some tips from Salt Lake County’s Health Department on how to improve or maintain your mental and social health as we head into the final stretch.
After reviewing this list, I have to admit that I need to do better on my sleep habits. And keeping my cell phone next to my bed is probably not helpful. One thing we did this past summer is welcomed our first pet (fish excluded) into our family. Ripley, our mini goldendoodle puppy, has forced us out for walks every day, and she’s kept life interesting during the pandemic. Some of my favorite memories have been Zoom calls with the entire Winder or Newton extended family so we could catch up and hear how everyone was doing.
This pandemic will only break down our mental health and friendships if we let it, so take active steps to stay engaged, integrate healthy behaviors, and connect with our loved ones. If you have other mental health issues where you are thinking about harming yourself or others, please call the crisis line at 801-587-3000 or contact them on the SAFE UT app.
Since COVID-19 vaccines were approved and rollout began for healthcare workers and teachers, we have all been a little more hopeful that the end of the pandemic is drawing near. A few weeks ago, vaccinations were expanded to Utahns 70 years of age or older. Vaccinations were prioritized in this manner by the State of Utah to provide protection to those on the front lines of fighting the pandemic and to reduce the number of fatalities among those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
The State is making the determination on which groups will receive vaccinations, but they have recognized that counties and their local health departments are best equipped to carry out the actual vaccine administration. I was able to meet with Mayor Jenny Wilson, Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson, and health officials from both the county and state as we discussed the best way to vaccinate as many people as possible. The State of Utah is working hard to obtain more vaccines from the federal government and our county is dedicated to getting vaccines to residents as soon as we receive each batch.
Your Salt Lake County Health Department has been hard at work preparing and executing the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. In the national vetting of the vaccine, no steps were skipped to ensure its safety and efficacy. I have seen the vaccine administered at the Mountain America Expo Center and the process is organized and sanitary. As of January 19, the Salt Lake County Health Department had administered 21,400 vaccines. As you are eligible to obtain the vaccine, I encourage you to do so. The faster you and those around you can get vaccinated, the better off we will all be.
Here is some additional information that may be helpful:
Hospital healthcare workers are being vaccinated by their employers. Long-term care facility healthcare workers are being vaccinated through their employers by Walgreens, CVS, and Community Nursing Services.
All other healthcare workers who live or work in Salt Lake County are being vaccinated by the Salt Lake County Health Department.
Teachers and other school staff will have their vaccines administered through their school district via Community Nursing Services (CNS), but information can be found at cns-cares.org/covid19vaccine-educator
Those 70 years of age or older can sign up to be notified of vaccination appointments at SaltLakeHealth.org (click “COVID” then click “Vaccine”) or can obtain more information by calling the Salt Lake County Health Department at (385) 468-7468.
There is no cost to get vaccinated, regardless of whether you have health insurance or not. For general information regarding the rollout and groups able to receive the vaccine, visit: coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine
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.
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