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 $1.4 billion budget.
In addition to the statutorily required functions that include assessing and collecting taxes, running elections, and core criminal justice/public safety roles, there are quality of life functions that make Salt Lake County a better place for families to flourish. These include our regional parks, recreation centers, open space, libraries, and other regionally significant amenities - some of which are funded through tourism dollars.
I love living in Salt Lake County, both for the quality of life as well as the fact that we work hard to tackle tough challenges like childhood trauma, poverty, affordable housing, and more. It’s very important to me that county government performs its essential and important functions with integrity, transparency, and efficiency.
The budget season is a time when I and my colleagues on the council must act in an oversight role over the executive branch to ensure funds are spent in accordance with the principles above. This is particularly important this year, given that the County Mayor’s proposed budget includes a nearly $18 million property tax increase. My goal is to find any unnecessary spending so that we can balance the budget without a tax increase, before we ever ask taxpayers for more.
As we come to the close of this budget process, I want to outline some of the key principles I’ve brought to the budget this year, and every year prior.
First and foremost, tax dollars collected don’t “belong” to the county. They are your dollars. Taxpayers entrust the county (or any government for that matter) with a portion of their hard-earned money, and in exchange, expect the government to perform essential, necessary functions for the constituency. 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 say, “It’s only x dollars… so we shouldn’t worry about it.”
Any expenditure whether it’s $10,000 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, as mentioned above. I also consider public safety and criminal justice generally to be in the “need to have” category, since keeping our residents safe is absolutely one of the core functions of government. That doesn’t preclude the need to still find efficiencies in public safety and criminal justice, but this area should be highly prioritized.
The “nice to have” list includes quality of life aspects of the county mentioned above, as well as any other program or effort that can easily be described as “good” or of benefit to the county, but not always within the absolute necessities.
These two lists are by no means exhaustive here. But this 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, or even 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 I will always advocate for this approach any time government is given the trust of the public through their tax dollars.
Though there isn’t always agreement among my council colleagues on budgetary matters, I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve and deliberate with them. And I am particularly grateful to the constituents who have trusted me to look out for their tax dollars throughout my years of service.
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