As 2017 draws to a close, it’s worth looking back at the noteworthy events that have helped shape our county, and some of the initiatives my office is working on.
Last year I wrote about issues I wanted to work on for 2017, which included intergenerational poverty, criminal justice, suicide prevention, and budget transparency. I’m pleased that we’ve made progress on each of these fronts, and I want to update you on each of them.
After learning as much as I could about intergenerational poverty and its impact on families in Salt Lake County this year, I asked my colleagues on the County Council for their support to launch a county task force to address the issue. With their support, the council-driven Intergenerational Poverty Task Force was started and is looking at the county’s role in empowering families to break out of the cycle of poverty.
This group brings together directors from county entities like Human Services, Behavioral Health, Regional Development, and the mayor’s office, as well as representatives from the state’s Workforce Services and Human Services departments, local school districts, and more. This coalition will look at the current anti-poverty efforts within Salt Lake County and assess how we’re doing in addressing intergenerational poverty specifically. It’s vital for county and local leaders to lead this charge in our communities if we really want to make a difference empowering people to break out of the cycle of poverty. You can learn more about the state research behind intergenerational poverty here.
This past year the homelessness crisis has been a tremendous focus for Salt Lake County, as well as state and local law enforcement. We’ve had ongoing conversations about the best ways to help people trapped in a condition of homelessness, many of whom also struggle with drug addictions. The launch of Operation Rio Grande underscored the urgency of this issue, and I’m glad to see progress being made.
One of the first and most important priorities is to ensure our law enforcement officers have the right tools to do the job. Part of that includes the threat of jail time for people committing criminal offenses on the street. In our recently approved 2018 budget, the Council included funding to fully open the Oxbow Jail in Salt Lake City. This, combined with optimizing the jail bed space at the Adult Detention Center will 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 dangerous or disruptive individuals. Coupled with the council’s support of and funding for treatment beds, this improvement will yield tangible benefits for reducing crime and drug use in our communities.
I had the opportunity to serve on the state’s Mental Health Crisis Line Commission this year. We looked at the resources available across the state for people in a moment of mental health crisis. Where would they turn? We found that resources in many regions of Utah were insufficient. Our goal is to ensure that any individual in our state who is in a crisis situation has a place to turn, 24-7, to help them.
There may be legislation this coming session to help address this. Meanwhile, we’ve been working with Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart to establish something on a national level.
Currently, there is a great tool known as the SAFEUT app that you can download on your smartphone. In times of crisis you can always call 801.587.3000 to talk to a trained counselor in a free and confidential call. Until a different resource is available (such as a three digit crisis line as has been proposed) these are wonderful tools to keep in mind for anyone who may be struggling.
The most important function of the County Council is to pass a budget each year. This budget represents the policy direction for the county, as directed by the council. It’s important for us to pass a budget that pays for all the statutorily required functions of county government, as well as provide resources to meet county objectives that are appropriate roles of county government. I’m pleased that the budget passed this year accomplishes these goals, with NO tax increase. I will always be committed to doing whatever we can to find areas to trim unnecessary county spending, finding more efficient ways to use the funding we already do have, before asking taxpayers for an increase.
To that end, this year I made it clear during the budget deliberations that I would not support a final budget that exceeded the dollar amount proposed in the Mayor’s initial budget of roughly $1.3 billion. Growth in spending, even if marginal on a year over year basis, contributes to the growth of government and eats into our fund balance (savings account). That’s why I supported $1.2 million in cuts, which would have avoided the need to dip into that fund balance, and further stave off any talk of tax increases in future budgets.
Since the final budget exceeded the Mayor’s recommendation by more than $360,000, and there were still plenty of prudent cuts we could have made to avoid using fund balance, ultimately I decided to vote against the budget. The budget passed on a 5-4 vote, with a majority of council members voting in favor.
I’m still grateful to my colleagues and the mayor’s office for the collaboration and dialogue that occurred throughout this process. Each year I’ll strive for a better process than the last, incorporating more transparency and open discussion on budgetary matters.
You’ll find that many of these issues take time. There is no immediate, easy fix to pressing challenges in our county. But each year as we make steps in the right direction—whether on poverty, crime, mental health, transparency, or a multitude of other issues—we ought to celebrate the progress we see that improves lives for county residents, increases opportunity, and ultimately continues to make Salt Lake County and Utah a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family.
With the County Council’s budget deliberations now completed, the only remaining step is to hold a public hearing to receive public comment on the budget, and then take the final vote. Numerous complex and controversial issues were discussed this budget cycle, including the Mayor’s proposal to close the Salt Lake Valley Transfer station on January 1, 2018, as part of his 2018 budget.
Closing the transfer station outright in this manner would have a very sudden and negative impact on residents in South Salt Lake, Salt Lake City, and the cities/townships who are part of Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District (Taylorsville, Magna, Kearns, Herriman, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Millcreek, White City, Copperton, Emigration Canyon, and the unincorporated areas). Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District operates on a calendar year budget and their Board has approved and finalized the 2018 budget. The closure in January would have put their organization in a crisis mode since they would have had no time to properly prepare.
In October, former Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott passed away. He was a good man and a true public servant, and I always knew him to be one who showed kindness and a smile to everyone. I know his family and friends are mourning his loss, and also honoring his life. The Salt Lake County Council passed a proclamation to offer our gratitude for all he did for Salt Lake County, and I wanted to share it below for all of you.
PROCLAMATION OF THE SALT LAKE COUNTY COUNCIL
RECOGNIZING THE SERVICE OF FORMER COUNTY RECORDER GARY OTT DELIVERED TO HIS FAMILY
WHEREAS, on behalf of the citizens of Salt Lake County, we wish to express our deep sorrow over the passing of former County Recorder Gary William Ott on October 19, 2017, and;
WHEREAS, Mr. Gary Ott was elected as County Recorder in 2001 and contributed to the preservation of property rights for county residents for many years, and;
WHEREAS, Mr. Gary Ott was an accomplished individual who graduated from Utah State University and served in the Utah National Guard and the U.S. Army while stationed in Germany, and;
WHEREAS, His life was dedicated to the best interests of the community and his family. He was proud of his time spent in the military serving our country, and;
WHEREAS, Gary Ott was a kind human with a great sense of humor and enjoyed hearing the laughter of others, and;
WHEREAS, The County of Salt Lake along with Gary Ott’s immediate family are blessed to have known him and been a part of his life, and;
NOW, THEREFORE, The Salt Lake County Council, in recognition of Gary W. Ott’s many contributions to our County and its citizens, do hereby express our deep appreciation for his dedication to Salt Lake County and extend to his family our sincere sympathy upon his passing.
You can also read his obituary here.
Every June, Salt Lake County goes through its mid-year budget process to true-up the projected revenues for the county, certify the official tax rates, and take care of any other housekeeping items for the County’s finances. We also review requests for adjustments to our budget.
Three issues came up during this process that generated a lot of discussion among County Council members: Bonanza Flat, money from our Tourism, Recreation, Cultural, and Convention fund (TRCC), and $47 million in transportation funds.
By now you’ve likely heard about the unexpected announcement that single men will be housed at the homeless resource center abutting the Jordan River Trail. Last week, more than fifty elected officials in Salt Lake County called for public dialogue about the homeless populations through a joint letter. Below is the letter in its entirety:
The public discussion around Utah’s suicide epidemic is yielding results. I joined KSL’s Doug Wright twice over the past week, to discuss the alarming rate of suicide among teens in Utah. (You can listen here).
I’ve written before about the need for a three digit crisis line, and was grateful to work with Rep. Steve Eliason and Sen. Daniel Thatcher as they ran legislation to start that process in Utah. I was also thrilled last week to see Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart introduce legislation in Congress to do the same thing at the national level.
Roughly 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they reach adulthood. That’s not just nationally, that’s right here in Utah. 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 child abuse.
Last week the County Council passed a joint proclamation with Mayor Ben McAdams’ office designating April 2017 as Child Abuse Prevention Month. By doing this, we want to help bring attention to the 3,708 confirmed child victims of abuse in Salt Lake County alone last year. All children deserve to grow up in homes where they are safe and nurtured, and free from any form of abuse. We appreciate the Family Support Center for bringing this to our attention and for being at the event to join us in the recognition.
We also contributed $2,500 to Prevent Child Abuse Utah (PCAU), a group that educates Utah children about how to recognize signs of abuse. I sit on the board for PCAU, and I’ve been deeply impressed with their work. They visit schools around the state and educate children using easy to understand, age-appropriate concepts. Sadly in some cases, it is a parent or relative who is abusing the child. This education can help prevent that.
Last fall the Salt Lake County Council was asked to pass a resolution to create the Central Wasatch Commission - a product of Mountain Accord - under the auspices of increased coordination between local governments for the benefit of the canyons. This body would involve mayors from Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, Cottonwood Heights and Sandy who would look at transportation needs in the canyons.
As I looked at the first attempt, I became extremely uncomfortable with the broad powers that would have been granted this new government body, including: levying fees, bonding, acquiring property, and engaging in contracts.
While these actions of themselves are not problematic, without proper checks from legislative branches it was not something I was comfortable with. A partnership between Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, Sandy, and Cottonwood Heights to collaborate on transportation solutions and other needs for the canyons should include more robust checks and balances from the legislative branches of each of those governments.
Fortunately, after months of discussions with stakeholders and community members, the Council was presented with a new, revised version of the Central Wasatch Commission. The new version included an at-large member of the County Council as a commission member, and also requires the commission to come back to the legislative branch (our County Council) as well as that of cities before exercising the powers mentioned above.
The canyons are some of our greatest resources here in Salt Lake County. We are inspired by the breathtaking views as we enjoy sports such as hiking, skiing, mountain biking, and rappelling. There are also watershed areas that provide drinking water for some residents in the valley. Because the majority of the canyons are still part of unincorporated Salt Lake County, we have planning and zoning jurisdiction over them.
Because of this planning authority, much time has been spent exploring various ordinances for the canyons. In fact, many commissions have spent the past few years reviewing zoning ordinances and giving input on this area. Over the past few months the County Council has reviewed recommendations by several planning commissions on two different ordinances: the Foothill Canyons Overlay Zone (FCOZ) and the Mountain Resort Zone (MRZ).