As we begin a new year, I see great opportunity for Salt Lake County to work as a regional government, collaborating with state and local partners to help address complex issues.
There are a few issues I feel are particularly important, and I’ll be focusing on them in the coming year: intergenerational poverty, criminal justice reform, suicide prevention, and improved transparency over the county budget.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the 1.1 million residents in Salt Lake County roughly 10.8 percent are experiencing poverty. In recent years the State of Utah has taken great strides to better understand poverty in our communities, with a specific focus on intergenerational poverty. Distinct from situational poverty, intergenerational poverty refers to a cycle of poverty and use of public assistance programs that continues from one generation to the next.
I believe every Utahn should have access to the opportunities our robust economy offers, allowing them to break free of the constraints of a cycle of poverty. I’ll be working with state experts and local officials to see what appropriate role the county can play in addressing this issue.
Criminal justice reform certainly ties into poverty issues. Specifically, I’m interested in how the county can help reduce recidivism in our criminal justice system. Helping former offenders rehabilitate and connect with job opportunities to contribute to society after they have completed their time in jail is vital. There has already been a tremendous amount of great work in this area, and I’m eager to help move these initiatives forward.
We all know that suicide among Utah teens is staggeringly high—something that is totally unacceptable. This past year I testified before the State Legislature about the need for a statewide three-digit number to connect people with crisis intervention resources. I’ll continue to push forward on that issue in 2017 and beyond. We can and must do better for our residents struggling with severe mental health issues.
Lastly - better government transparency for tax dollar spending is vital. Though conceivably more procedural in nature than the other issues I’ve discussed, I still feel very strongly about the need for proper transparency to the public.
In particular, I’ll be looking at how we can better communicate the complexities of the county budget to our residents. They have a right to know where their tax dollars are going—and whether those uses are efficient and effective. With roughly one billion dollars comprising the total county budget, there is a lot of work to do to ensure transparency in how we spend tax dollars.
There will of course be additional issues that come up during the year, but I believe these items above are crucial issues to tackle—and I believe the county can be a great partner working with state and local leaders to make a positive difference.
I’m constantly reminded of the humbling opportunity I have to serve on the Salt Lake County Council. I’m eager to continue working hard on behalf of my constituents and all county residents to ensure Salt Lake County continues to be a great place to live, work, and raise a family.