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.
Bonanza Flat is a parcel of land located in the Wasatch Mountains just east of Guardsman Pass, largely in Wasatch County. Previously, the Council heard a request to appropriate $3 million to contribute to an effort to purchase the land (valued at $38 million) and preserve it as open space.
Protecting and preserving open space is one of my priorities on the Council. I’ve served as Chair of the Jordan River Commission, which has done tremendous work protecting open space along the Jordan River Parkway. I even donated personally to the effort to preserve Bonanza Flat. However, since the land is not within the jurisdiction of Salt Lake County, I felt it would be inappropriate to expend County taxpayers’ dollars on it.
My Republican colleagues and I voted down this initial request, but during our June budget process Mayor McAdams’ office brought the request again, this time using $1.5 million in TRCC funds as the source. The measure eventually passed 5-4. I did not vote for this and maintained my argument that this was not a vital property for watershed (there are other properties above Deer Creek Reservoir that would be far more impactful on watershed, if we were in the business of buying properties for this purpose).
As I’ve echoed in statements to the public and press, I don’t approve spending county taxpayer dollars outside of the county. We have countless needs within the county, including open space and outdoor recreation, not to mention core services that the county provides.
Additionally, I was concerned with how the second request came about. We have a defined process to vet requests for TRCC funds, which happens every year during our normal fall budget cycle. Various cities bring requests for funding for a multitude of parks, recreation, or other projects that are appropriate for TRCC. We have a TRCC advisory board that hears all of these requests, weighs all the needs holistically against the finite dollars available, scores the projects, and makes a final list of recommendations to the council.
The Bonanza Flat request was brought up through a last minute TRCC board meeting the night before the item was to be heard by the county council. This prevents the TRCC board from weighing this request against all of the needs, and hampers their ability to make a recommendation based on the highest and best use of those dollars.
This alteration in the process limits our ability to make wise decisions on behalf of taxpayers.
Lastly, the council was asked to review a list of $47 million in transportation funding allocations to various cities in the county. Some mayors cited apparent inequity in how much money was going to the different cities.
In addition to the concerns of fairness, I was concerned about the process. It became clear that legally, the county has the authority to decide how those funds are distributed. The state legislature’s list was demonstrative of their priorities and desires for how that money was to be spent. Moving forward, I hope to work with legislators to develop a more clearly defined process for how those funds are allocated.
Included in the $47 million was a request to give $4.7 million to the new District Attorney building construction project. The $4.7 million was to go to a parking garage that is already fully funded, allowing $4.7 million to then be taken out of the project and given to Sandy City to help pay for the new Hale Centre Theatre.
In essence, our council was being asked to move transportation dollars into an already fully funded project, freeing up other dollars (formerly general fund) to go to an arts project. This represented a slight of hand with taxpayer money that I was not comfortable with. Transportation dollars should go to transportation projects.
I voted to keep taxpayer money within Salt Lake County, rather than go to Bonanza Flat. I also voted against the $47 million dollar list due to lack of a transparent process, and the included $4.7 million effort to essentially spend transportation dollars on an arts project.
I was not on the prevailing side on these votes, but my constituents should know that their interests were represented.
Moving forward, I’ll work hard with my colleagues to improve the transparency and accountability of the process of funding decisions like these.
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]