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.
Voting by mail has been one of the hot topics of this election season. National headlines have questioned both the security and the process. Salt Lake County voters should not be concerned, as our county has had years of experience in voting by mail, and our Salt Lake County Clerk has been running successful, secure, and reliable vote-by-mail elections since 2013. As a Salt Lake County voter, you can be sure that your vote will be counted. In fact, Utah was ranked second in the nation for protecting voter privacy and data.
The Salt Lake County Clerk mailed ballots on October 13th to all active registered voters in the county. Your ballot should have arrived in your mailbox that same week. Ballots returned by mail must be postmarked on or before November 2nd (the day before Election Day) to be counted.
Besides having a postage-paid envelope to return your ballot, Salt Lake County has offered 21 secure drop boxes throughout Salt Lake County where ballots can be returned. The locations are listed on the ballot instructions included in ballot packets, and can be found at got-vote.org. Ballots can also be returned to the county clerk’s office or to a vote center. If you aren’t returning your ballot by mail, it must be dropped off at one of the above locations before 8 p.m. on Election Day. A limited number of vote centers will be open on Election Day, but with all social distancing guidelines and precautions around the pandemic, voters are encouraged to use the vote-by-mail system to avoid potential lines and long waits. The vote centers are to accommodate those who did not receive a ballot in the mail.
Some people may not realize how ballots are processed and counted. When the ballots arrive at the clerk’s office to be processed, the first step is a signature match. This is done electronically by a state-of-the-art machine designed just for this purpose. Ballots with signatures that don’t match what the clerk has on file are “challenged” and the voter is contacted to confirm their identity. Once they’ve verified the voter’s identity, the signature and the ballot are then separated to protect the voter’s privacy and the ballot goes into another machine to be counted.
After the clerk tabulates all the votes, the results are then certified by the Board of Canvassers, comprised of the Salt Lake County Council Members. The official results are then sent to the State Elections Office. In Salt Lake County we have cameras filming all rooms where ballots are held. There must be at least two people in an area when ballots are handled. Salt Lake County has been complimented by elections attorneys around the country for our secure process. In Utah, you can track your ballot’s progress at vote.utah.gov to make sure it is counted.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who can’t wait for the election season to end, but at least we know that here in Salt Lake County voters can rest assured that their ballots will be counted, that the process is secure, and that their privacy is protected.
This year as the leaves changed I was reminded again how lucky we are to live in Utah where we get to experience four seasons in all their glory. Recently I had an opportunity to visit a beautiful area of our County--Butterfield Canyon--for a #BiketheButter Mountain Bike Rally.
With a gentle nudge from our mountain biking friends, we have an opportunity to take some of our Salt Lake County open space and make it more accessible. We have the chance to build a multi-use trail system in the southwest corner of the Salt Lake Valley and tie together Butterfield, Yellow Fork, and Rose Canyons. This exciting opportunity has been made possible with a partnership between Salt Lake County, the Bureau of Land Management, Rio Tinto, private property owners, and some dedicated and passionate residents.
These residents have taken their passion for mountain biking and pulled the community together to raise money and speed up the timeline for a desired trail system. This group recently raised $200,000 as a donation to begin this trail planning process.
Mountain biking is one of the fastest growing high school sports in Utah and the west side of the valley has over a thousand students participating. Developing this trail system makes these recreational opportunities available right in their backyard and will expand participation and access. The proposed trail system will link over 70 miles of trail and will provide recreational opportunities for hikers and equestrians, in addition to mountain bikers. It will be another jewel in the open space crown of Salt Lake County.
Every few years Salt Lake County conducts a countywide needs assessment and the results from both the 2012 and 2017 surveys told us that the number one priority of residents was open space and trails. This year especially, as we all found ourselves spending a little more time closer to home we also saw a marked increase in people using our parks and trails. We are so grateful for the foresight of visionary leaders who have been setting this land aside, maintaining it, and making sure that everyone in the county has access.
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. I am grateful for the passionate residents and thoughtful leaders who are willing to look forward not just for the next five years but for the next 50 years.
"I want to die. I’m done.” Those were the words I heard from one of my children several years ago. It was late one evening, my husband was out of town, and when my son came to me for help, my brain was reeling… I didn’t know what to do.
I’m not alone when it comes to having children, a spouse, or other family members with mental health challenges. As I’ve worked on these issues as a Salt Lake County Councilmember, and on the state’s mental health crisis response commission, I know we need to talk openly and break the stigma. I’m grateful to my family members who have given me permission to share some of our experiences…
A few of my kids have struggled with anxiety — it runs in my family. In fact, I can relate with how they feel because I, too, have battled it. After years of putting myself in high-anxiety situations, meeting with a helpful therapist, and learning my triggers (lack of sleep is the biggest one), I’ve been able to mostly overcome it. But my kids have had to learn in their own ways what their anxiety triggers are, and what they are willing to do to overcome it. I’ve had some kids who gladly met with a therapist, and others who thought they “didn’t need that,” and later realized that therapy is immensely helpful.
I’ve had some of my kids who have tried medication and decided it didn’t help them much, and others who are grateful for modern medicinal miracles. All have realized that solving mental health issues is more than taking a pill. It’s work. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are intertwined.
I’ve experienced depression as both the patient and the spouse. After my second baby was born, I found myself dealing with post partum depression and it was awful. Feeling like you have nothing to look forward to, and even wondering if your presence on this earth is meaningful is not a pleasant experience, but I gained empathy for those who deal with it.
My husband went through a bout of depression a few years after we were married. I think that being the spouse of someone dealing with depression is far worse than actually being depressed myself. It was the most helpless feeling I had ever felt. I wanted to fix things for him, make him all better, and watching him suffer was difficult to watch. We were lucky it was a short-term issue.
So back to the son at the beginning of this article… I took him to the hospital. And later found out that some hospitals are better for suicidality than others. I learned how hard it is to be the parent of a loved one who was suicidal. Every day I would worry if he slept in too long, or if he didn’t come home on time. I had nightmares about finding him dead. It was such a scary time and I’m so grateful he got the help he needed and is doing so well now! During that time I also found out about an awesome resource that Salt Lake County helps to fund — the UNI Crisis Line. You can call 801-587-3000 anytime to speak with a professional.
My advice to all of you who are struggling or are watching a family member struggle… talk to someone. Don’t suffer in silence. This illness totally sucks for so many reasons. My heart aches for those of you in the throes of this, but hang in there. It can be overcome and the sun will come out tomorrow.
I have always loved the Fourth of July. Our family activities over the years have ranged from driving up the canyon to the Brighton Breakfast or riding parades. In the evening, we’ve had the tradition of lighting fireworks with our neighbors. I love to celebrate America and appreciate the incredible and miraculous history of our country. This year our family enjoyed watching, “Hamilton” and gained an even greater appreciation for our Founding Fathers.
As I reflected on our celebration of America, I’ve thought a lot about the creation of our country, as well as the issues facing our country today. I have no doubt that the events that transpired during the Revolutionary War, the incredible feat of developing our country’s Constitution, and many other events during this time were truly miracles.
So let’s talk about modern times. This year was interesting. Besides a pandemic, earthquake, and fires, we have civil unrest that has escalated in our own cities. Without getting into details of these highly emotional and often politicized specifics, I think it’s safe to say that most of us have seen the incredible divide in our society. No longer can we share a political viewpoint without others going on the attack. Social media has become a civil war of sorts where people seem to have lost all civility and respect for their fellow humans. This Fourth of July was interesting for me. As an elected official, I wanted to post something on my public Facebook page to honor the day, but I even found myself scratching my head… not sure how to post something that wouldn’t create drama, or could be politicized. I’m finding more and more that posting about puppies seems to be the only safe play on social media.
I am grateful for our country. I know that America is an incredible place and we all have much to be grateful for. But right now some have their anxiety on high alert as we continually see news reports of riots, Covid cases on the rise, racial divide, earthquakes, and other crazy 2020 issues. So how do we find peace in 2020?
When I was decorating my family room a few years ago I ran into an awesome sale at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I found a giant wood wall hanging with colors that matched perfectly for only $19.99 and I bought it. The words were nice. But never before have these words been needed more than this year. It says, “Peace is not about silence. It is not a place without trouble or fear. Peace is standing in the middle of chaos and finding the calm in your heart.”
Whether upset by destruction during downtown riots, a crazy busy governor’s race, or other family issues, I’ve needed to remember where peace really comes from and how to find that calm in my heart.
In the past I’ve struggled with anxiety - an ailment that seems to run in my family. Being able to look at things with a pragmatic viewpoint, relying on my faith to help me through, and getting enough sleep at night are some of the things I’ve learned to do to help me have that calm in my heart. It’s not easy, and there are many things that are out of our control, but relying on my higher power, keeping my friend and family relationships strong, and taking care of myself are things that seem to help.
As we continue through this crazy year, my best wishes to you and your family to find that calm in your heart.
The worldwide pandemic and resulting quarantine has highlighted many of the areas in society where we can improve. Since mid-March, calls to domestic violence hotlines, the suicide hotline, and substance abuse hotlines have increased. Now more than ever we need access to good behavioral health services.
Oftentimes we see law enforcement on the front lines of these battles. When an officer picks up someone who is in need of behavioral health services, they take them to the emergency room or the jail. Neither one is the best place for someone to get long-term mental health care or substance abuse help, and they are both expensive options.
Salt Lake County has been on the leading edge of this work. As we’ve explored best practices in other states, we recognize that a receiving center dedicated to behavioral health is the least expensive and gives the best outcomes for our residents. Last year I had the opportunity to travel to Arizona as a member of the state’s mental health crisis commission. We toured their receiving center and saw their comprehensive crisis services. Our commission and Salt Lake County supported a legislative appropriation to fund a receiving center pilot project in areas throughout the state. It passed! Salt Lake County stepped up to also partner with resources, and we are hoping to move forward with a receiving center in the near future, as long as the funds remain after the upcoming legislative budget cuts. (So tell your legislator to keep HB 32 funded!)
In Salt Lake County we already have an incredible crisis line to take calls and texts 24/7, that number is 801-587-3000. We also pay to dispatch a Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT) to those who are in crisis, recognizing law enforcement can’t be expected to be all things to all people. But we have a gap in treatment services. A receiving center will offer medical and psychiatric triage, clinical assessment, peer support, discharge planning, connection to community resources, and referral services to treatment programs including in-patient care, medical care, and detox. Having a receiving center is a more cost-effective way to treat patients and takes the pressure off of emergency rooms and jails - which are currently the only options. It will create savings across the county in hospitals, law enforcement agencies, the county jail, and the court system. It will also save the state money as receiving center Medicaid bills will be less expensive than an emergency room visit.
Behavioral health is a top priority and I’m hopeful we will see some meaningful improvements to the existing system which will give real help to those suffering, save tax dollars in the long run, and lighten the burden in jails, emergency rooms, and with law enforcement.
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