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.
That’s why I take my role on the County Council so seriously, especially when it comes to budget season. Each fall the Mayor presents a proposed Salt Lake County budget to the Council, and in the subsequent weeks Council members have the opportunity to review all the new budgetary requests as well as any and all ongoing expenditures.
As listened to constituents, and worked with some of my colleagues and Council staff to comb through the budget, I felt an added urgency to find efficiencies given the fact that the Mayor’s budget included a nearly $18 million dollar property tax increase.
First, I have to give a shout out to the staff in the Mayor’s administration. The fiscal managers, program directors, and many more were extremely helpful and professional throughout this process. I’m always impressed by their work ethic and professionalism, even when being asked many tough budgetary questions.
Ultimately, my colleague Council Chair Richard Snelgrove and I proposed a package of roughly $11.8 million in proposed cuts to the budget. The Council ended up approving about $6 million in cuts. I’m pleased there were some non-essential items removed, but also disappointed we didn’t cut more.
I’ve included here the full list of cuts/proposals that I spoke to in our council meeting last Tuesday. Some of these items are rough dollar amounts based on multiple factors, or would need to be implemented thoughtfully, but each proposal is intended to curb expenditures in an area that may be nice to have, but is not essential to the core role of county government (especially in a tax increase year).
The reason I am so passionate about cutting the “nice to have” items from government is simply this: it isn’t our money—it belongs to the taxpayers. Every trim we can make to push back against the natural tendency of government to grow can help keep more of your tax dollars in your own wallets. And I always believe we can do this while still making valuable investments in public services, which I’ve defended before. But our aim should always be to achieve maximum efficiency, and keep the role of government restrained and carefully targeted.
Going through the largest government budget in Utah (second only to the state government budget itself) that totals roughly $1.4 billion is hard work, 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, our residents, and the constituents whom I represent in this role.
A year and a half ago, I asked a group of community leaders, experts, and advocates to come together to form Salt Lake County's first ever task force addressing intergenerational poverty. We recently produced a comprehensive report that outlines our work, as well as providing some important policy recommendations. You can read the full report below.
I am working to ensure:
Strong Communities by supporting more recreational space for families, working to prevent child abuse, increasing mental health resources to prevent teen suicide, and tackling the issue of intergenerational poverty. Facing these important issues will help improve the quality of life throughout our community.
Fiscal Discipline by being a budget hawk, with eyes on preserving Salt Lake County's AAA credit rating and implementing prudent spending practices to protect your tax dollars.
Public Safety by advocating for additional jail beds to enable police to do their job, while providing substance abuse and mental health programming so that those incarcerated don't become repeat offenders. A safe community is my top priority.
"Accountability, transparency, and accessibility are vital in government. I will do all I can to support the highest quality service at the lowest possible price."
Aimee has been serving on the county council since January 2014, and is the first women elected as chair of the council. Here are some of the things she has done:
“Aimee is REAL. She is down-to-earth, accessible and authentic. She brings common sense and collaboration to the council.”
– Salt Lake County Councilmember Richard Snelgrove
I recently went on a ride-along with a detective from one of our city police departments. I wanted to see firsthand the challenges faced by people living in impoverished neighborhoods in Salt Lake County. It was an eye-opening experience to see how school resources, family life, and neighborhood attributes all can impact the overall success of families in our county. It also motivated me to work harder to help our county residents build better lives for their families.
While there are many policy approaches to improve prospects for Utahns in these kinds of communities, one I want to highlight here is tied to opportunity.
While there’s an appropriate role for government, I believe the best way to fight poverty is to more effectively connect people with economic opportunity. A really exciting new policy tool to do just that is the designation of “Opportunity Zones.”
*Originally published in City Journals
One of the top priorities for the County Council this year is to fully open the Oxbow Jail. As an elected official in Salt Lake County I believe keeping our public safe and our jail system operating effectively and efficiently is one of our most important duties. And since Salt Lake County’s largest budget expenditure is the jail and over 70 percent of the General Fund is used for criminal justice-related expenses, it’s an issue that’s often top of mind for me.
The County’s 2018 budget that was approved in December provided funding to fully open the Oxbow Jail. We hoped that this, combined with optimizing the jail bed space at the Adult Detention Center would have a significant impact on criminal justice challenges in the county. Having sufficient jail bed space so our law enforcement officers can arrest offenders and have a place to take them is vital. Resources for more beds gives officers this tool as they do their jobs to keep our streets free from potentially dangerous individuals.
The main challenge to fully opening Oxbow is a staffing shortage. While there is enough funding for new operations, the jail is struggling to hire enough corrections officers to sufficiently staff the new pods that would be open.
When the Sheriff presented to our council recently, we learned that there were 78 vacant positions at the jail. Even with new hires expected soon, the rate of turnover and retirement makes having sufficient staff a challenge.
Simply put, corrections officers leave for higher paying jobs elsewhere, or for better benefits. We’ve also been told that many hope to transition into a patrol officer job with one of many law enforcement departments in the valley that are vying for personnel as well.
I’ve been worried that our county faces a looming law enforcement crisis. Many departments face shortages and are competing with each other for officers by offering higher wages or other perks to attract people.
One idea that was presented as part of our mid-year budget process, is to offer a $2,000 incentive to retain corrections officers at the jail if they do not leave for employment elsewhere over the next six months. July is a prime time that cities amend their budgets to offer higher wages, and is a natural time for corrections officers to leave for those other positions. Hopefully this cash retention bonus would help encourage them to stay with our jail.
There will be ongoing conversations about how to help ensure our county jail is adequately staffed so we have the needed capacity to take dangerous people off the streets. I’m incredibly grateful to the Sheriff and her staff for working on this issue, and I’m confident we’ll find solutions moving forward.
Are you worried that with the rising real estate market, your property taxes will automatically go up? Don’t worry… the Truth in Taxation process in state statute doesn’t allow this to happen. That means that a government entity can’t collect more than they’ve already approved and that the tax rate will go down if your property values increase.
One of the central functions of Salt Lake County government is assessing and collecting property taxes. This creates the revenue source that funds a variety of different functions of government in our community. There are actually five steps in the Salt Lake County property tax process. Here’s a quick primer on each of them.
One of the most important duties of the county is ensuring public safety for all our residents. That’s why criminal justice is one of my priorities as a County Council member. Adequate resources in our county jail to take dangerous criminals off the streets, as well as tools to help others who have made mistakes move toward rehabilitation and reintegration as productive members of society, are just two of the key roles of our county.
I’m also deeply committed to criminal justice reform. We’ve long known that merely locking people up doesn’t necessarily lead truly fixing the cycle of criminal behavior that is a part of life for some of our residents. This is particularly true when it comes to drug abuse. It’s important that we find ways to help people take responsibility for their actions and be held accountable, but then empower them to improve their life. The goal is for any county resident who exits our criminal justice system after paying their debt to society to never enter the system again.
That’s why I’m encouraged by the great work in the county’s Intensive Supervision Probation program. This program takes a high risk/high need population and couples their substance abuse treatment with other aggressive interventions like home visits, worksite visits, and more. The goal is to create a more powerful relationship between the case managers/officers and the participants in the program.
One way our county Criminal Justice Services and Behavioral Health Services experts measure outcomes is through “risk scores” of program graduates. This risk scores can help indicate the likelihood of someone reoffending in the future. For graduates of the Intensive Supervision Probation program (also called “ISP”), we’ve seen a 45% reduction in risk scores.
Eighty six percent of graduates are receiving a clinical assessment, and 73% are actively engaged in treatment. We’ve had over 600 referrals in the program since it started in July of 2015.
One success story involves a client who was married with two young daughters. He struggled for several years with an addiction to meth, and had several run-ins with the law. He finally hit rock bottom when his children began getting bullied because their father was a drug addict. Unless he made some drastic changes, he would risk losing his family. This client agreed to go to Volunteers of America for detox, in order to be at a place where he could enter treatment.
After more than a year at a residential treatment facility, he finally graduated from his treatment program, having beat his addiction. He reconciled with his wife and kids, got a full time job, and was able to pay for an apartment for him and his family.
These are the success stories that give me hope that we can make tangible differences in our community by empowering residents who are ready to change their lives.
We’ll continue to track the outcomes of this program and report back to the public, but I’m excited by the promising results so far. When you look at approaches like this in the context of our state and nation’s opioid crisis, these tools are particularly encouraging. In fact, over one third of all ISP participants are working on recovery from an opioid addiction.
We’ll also always be looking at innovative new approaches to drug addiction, in the broader context of reforming the criminal justice system and reducing recidivism. In the meantime, hats off to the people running our Intensive Supervision Probation program, as well as the clients who have succeeded.
*Originally published in City Journals
Our greatest role—whether as parents, educators, or elected officials—is to protect our children from harm as we help them grow into adults who live, work, and raise a family. Unfortunately, the child abuse stats in Utah are staggering.
Nationally 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Utah’s child sexual abuse rate is three times the national average. These numbers demonstrate the stark reality of child abuse, and reinforce why it is so important for the community to spread awareness and take steps to end it. In Utah we often want to bury our head in the sand and assume that it won’t happen to our kids. Child sexual abuse can happen to anyone and it’s important to be educated.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and each year it offers a new opportunity to further educate our county and state about this issue, and offer a call to action. We need to bring attention to the more 3,708 confirmed child victims of abuse in Salt Lake County alone in 2016.
The bottom line is this: all children deserve to grow up in homes where they are safe and nurtured, and free from any form of abuse. The research is staggering about the negative long-term impacts of adverse childhood experiences, also known as “ACEs.”
ACEs include any form of abuse, neglect, domestic abuse toward the mother, substance abuse in the home, and more. A child who experiences ACEs has a higher chance of learning or behavioral issues later in life. If we want our kids to have the best chance of leading productive, innovative, and health and happy lives as adults, we should seek ways to reduce ACEs as much as possible.
Prevent Child Abuse Utah is one organization that seeks to do that by education children, parents, and teachers about the risks and impacts of child abuse, as well as ways to prevent it. Since child abuse can be a particularly debilitating form of adverse childhood experiences, it is important that we take prevention seriously.
I’ve been particularly impressed with Prevent Child Abuse Utah as they’ve gone school to school throughout Utah educating teachers and kids about the issue. Part of this includes helping children understand what child abuse actually is, and to know what to do if they ever experience it. Empowering children with the knowledge they need to protect themselves is vital.
I’ve been so impressed with Prevent Child Abuse Utah that I’ve served on their board for the last couple years, trying to help advance their mission. I would encourage all of our residents to spend 30 minutes taking the free, online parent course. You can find it at pcautah.org.
I fully believe that we can end child abuse in Utah. It starts with education, continues with prevention, and ends with every child growing up in a safe, nurturing environment free from any form of abuse.
*Originally published in City Journals
With the state legislative session underway, the Salt Lake County Council is keeping an eye on a number of bills that could impact our county residents. Although there will be many interesting issues, here are some that I will be paying particular interest to.
Over the last year, homelessness has been a focal point of county, state, and city leaders in the Salt Lake area. With the spike in criminal behavior and victimization in the Rio Grande district of downtown Salt Lake, and with help from Operation Rio Grande, much of our time has been spent discussing solutions and allocating additional resources. We appreciate our state partners in this endeavor.
Though Operation Rio Grande has had many successes, we’re certainly not finished. Providing the right tools for our homeless residents to get back on their feet is a long-term effort. As any legislation arises to fund homeless services or alter current programs or resources, we’ll examine how it accomplishes the goals to help all our Salt Lake County residents be successful.
Part of solving the homelessness crisis also must include affordable housing. Far too many county residents can’t find suitable housing that they can afford, while struggling to make ends meet. Currently, community reinvestment projects must set aside 10 percent of their budget to go toward affordable housing. This is a helpful funding stream that shouldn’t be taken away without a suitable replacement source of funding.
The best way to address the homeless issue is a combination of law enforcement response to the criminal element (specifically targeting the drug trade), short-term resources for housing and other immediate services so families no longer have to live on the streets, and longer term jobs, education and training options so they have the skills and resources to become self-sufficient. These long-term resources will naturally have to include affordable housing as a key component. I look forward to the work of our legislators to move these goals forward this session.
Last year the County Council approved my proposal to launch the Salt Lake County Intergenerational Poverty Task Force to look at ways to increase access to opportunity for those residents who are struggling the most to make ends meet. I’m hopeful that legislation this session will move us closer to accomplishing the goal of expanded opportunity, upward mobility, and empowering impoverished Utahns with the tools to earn their success and climb out of poverty.
Lastly, I’m encouraged by Governor Gary Herbert’s recent creation of the youth suicide task force. I’ve written in detail about this issue before, as it touches many of us personally, and all too painfully. I hope that with more efforts as a community, we can increasingly convey hope and help to each and every teen who may be struggling.
I’ll continue fighting for better resources, like the wildly successful SafeUT app, and the proposed three digit crisis line, to help our teens overcome any mental health crises they face, and take a step forward into a life filled with more happiness and hope. We owe this to our children.
These issues are often weighty and difficult to fix. But that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the good work done by so many in Utah who serve in state, county, and city leadership roles. I look forward to the tremendous progress we can make as we work together as Utahns in the coming year.
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