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.
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.
*Originally published in City Journals
We are in the midst of a public health crisis that has now reached epidemic status. An increasing number of Americans are dying due to prescription opioid overdose. This pervasive drug addiction afflicts more and more Salt Lake County residents, and costs millions of dollars in treatment and community impact.
Far too often, someone will be prescribed opioids to alleviate chronic pain after an injury or medical procedure. It’s possible to become addicted in as little as ten days. Once addiction has taken hold and prescriptions are not accessible, the victims sometimes switch to heroin, which is far cheaper and more accessible on the streets.
First, some key stats… 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. That number totaled more than 33,000 in 2015, roughly half of which involved opioids prescribed by a doctor. Since the 1990s, we’ve seen a shocking increase in opioid deaths. In fact, the number has quadrupled since 1999.
Utah is near the top for opioid-related deaths (ranking 4th highest in 2014, with six people dying per week on average). For that same year, Utah also had the highest rate of opioid prescriptions, at 41.6 percent. Deaths caused by prescription pain medication in Utah increased roughly 600 percent between 1999 and 2017.
I believe the number one role of county government is to provide for the public safety of our residents. That includes our county jail to incarcerate criminals, as well as drug treatment beds to empower people to break free of addictions that drive them to crime in the first place.
The opioid epidemic has hit hard in the state Utah, and in Salt Lake County. Thankfully, two of my colleagues on the County Council are leading out on the issue to find solutions. Council Chair Steve Debry, and Councilmember Jenny Wilson, with the unanimous consent of the Council, created the Salt Lake County Opioid Task Force. This group pulls together behavioral health and criminal justice experts in Salt Lake County to find effective solutions to this crisis.
In addition to potential reforms in drug treatment and resources, another option Salt Lake County is exploring is litigation against opioid manufacturers.
A number of counties and states across the country have already moved forward with litigation. The central claim rests on the disparity between what drug companies said about their opioids, and what the real effect is. They have also neglected to report suspicious orders, which was a requirement by the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Marketing messages that opioids were safe for chronic pain or for long-term use, and are generally not addictive, were clearly false. I’m anxious to see where this option goes, as we need every possible tactic to fight the impact of this epidemic.
This is a massive challenge that has worsened dramatically in recent years. I’m grateful to my colleagues on the council for their leadership, as well as the hard work of behavioral health, law enforcement, and treatment providers throughout the county. Though daunting, as with any task I believe that an open, collaborative approach that brings together key partners will ultimately yield success.
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.
*Originally published in City Journals
Salt Lake County is a place that offers tremendous opportunity for its residents to live, work, and raise a family. The county has a solid 2.6 percent job growth rate and low unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, both indicators of a growing economy.
We know that job growth and free enterprise are the best tools to help people escape poverty, and we’ve seen that manifested in Salt Lake County, throughout Utah, and even across the globe.
However, for some Salt Lake County residents, there are still additional barriers to tapping into that economic opportunity. I’m referring specifically to intergenerational poverty, which is a unique, more chronic form of poverty defined by use of public assistance continuing from one generation to the next. It typically afflicts young single mothers who have limited education, and are raising young children. Single parenthood, lack of education, and lack of steady employment are the biggest risk factors.
A child who grows up in a home dependent on public assistance has a higher risk of remaining in poverty as they become an adult, correlating with more use of welfare and the continuation of the cycle. More than 37,000 people are living in this cycle of poverty today in Salt Lake County (more than 16,000 adults and 20,000 children).
In October, I asked the County Council for support to create the Salt Lake County Intergenerational Poverty Task Force. They unanimously approved the new initiative, which will focus on how to help families stuck in a cycle of poverty in our county.
For several years now, the state’s Department of Workforce Services has been collecting data and publishing research on intergenerational poverty, to equip policymakers at both the state and local level with as much information as possible. We’re constantly learning more about the factors that contribute to this form of poverty, and the obstacles faced by those impacted.
The bottom line is this: intergenerational poverty is fundamentally different and more intractable than traditional poverty. Thousands of our neighbors are trapped in reliance on public assistance, limiting their ability to contribute to our economy and community, and presenting a significant cost to taxpayers. This situation also brings increased rates of abuse, less stable housing and home environments, and challenges finding steady employment.
Their children represent the next generation of this cycle, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Since the problem is unique, so too must be the solution.
The Salt Lake County Intergenerational Poverty Task Force will bring together willing partners from different spheres, including county government, regional representatives from state government, school districts, and other relevant community leaders in our county to discuss ways to align current anti-poverty efforts for improved outcomes specific to intergenerational poverty.
Every resident in our county deserves the opportunity to work, innovate, and contribute in a way that allows them to unlock their full potential, and to break free of the harmful effects their impoverished state. Every child in our county deserves the chance to grow up equipped with the right foundation to earn their own success as adults, hopefully never needing to rely on welfare.
Simply put, we need to recruit them into helping us build the future of Salt Lake County. With the right approach, I believe we’ll succeed.
*Originally published in City Journals
One year ago, I publicly shared the story of one of my sons having suicidal thoughts, and our efforts to get him help. Late one night last summer, my son came to me and told me “I want to die.” No mother wants to hear those words from her child.
My heart ached as I tried to figure out what to do. He was in a dire situation and I was racking my brain on where to turn. As an elected official on the Salt Lake County Council, I couldn’t believe I didn’t know who to call.
September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and over the past year I’ve learned a lot about this problem, as well as some of the ongoing efforts to fix it. I learned that suicide is the number one killer of teens in Utah. I learned (firsthand) the panic and fear that far too many parents feel when they desperately search for resources. And I learned we need a better way to connect these parents and individuals with crisis intervention resources to avert a tragedy.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to serve on the state crisis line commission and work with Lt Governor Cox, state legislators, and mental health professionals to improve resources to those in crisis. We have been meeting for the past several months surveying the level of resources throughout Utah available to individuals and families experiencing a mental health crisis.
The commission has finished the first phase, and will present the findings to the state legislature.
There are more than 20 different crisis lines throughout the state, with varying hours of access and level of resource. Because of this, we are recommending a public messaging campaign promoting the national crisis phone number: 1-800-273-TALK. We want to ensure this number funnels to the local resources based on where someone is calling from. We are hopeful that federal legislation by Senator Hatch and Congressman Stewart will create a nationwide three-digit crisis line in the future.
Areas of the state where local crisis lines aren’t operational 24/7, we’ll seek additional funding to bring them up to speed. We want to make sure that every caller in the midst of crisis is connected with a live person on the other end—not a recording. We also want to ensure that the people responding to calls are well-trained and sufficiently prepared to potentially save lives.
Currently, Salt Lake County is serviced by a highly-skilled and dedicated team of professionals at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute, better known as “UNI.” The people who take calls at UNI are consummate professionals. Not only can they help someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, they can also be a resource to anyone who is struggling but not quite at crisis level yet. I had the opportunity to tour the UNI facility and I was impressed by their operation. My hope is that this level of quality resource can become available to anyone in crisis, anywhere in Utah. Parents and kids can also access the SAFEUT app, which will connect them to UNI. Please download this app, if you haven’t already.
Lastly, we want to expand the reach of Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams, or MCOT. Think of it like an ambulance just for mental health emergencies. If someone has a mental health crisis, these teams can be dispatched to a home, school, or wherever needed. Their experts can work with the person experiencing the crisis and help them find a resolution that doesn’t involve self-harm. We’ve already seen these teams in action in Salt Lake County saving lives, and I’m hopeful we will see this resource in other counties throughout the state.
There is still a lot of work to do, and we’re just in the first phases. But I’ve never been more optimistic about Utah’s ability to solve our suicide crisis. For every teenager whose thoughts turn to suicide, and every mother whose heart breaks for her child—I’m committed to seeing this through. I know what it's like to feel that panic and fear. We’re making progress. I’m excited for the continued cooperation between community leaders and experts, and various levels of government, to bring to bear sufficient resources to do so. Our children’s lives depend on it.
*Originally published in City Journals
In the wake of Operation Rio Grande, there are ongoing conversations about how best to help our homeless friends. Most of us have been asked more than once by someone on the street if we can spare some change. The people of Utah and Salt Lake County are good, charitable people who want to help. Here are some important things to keep in mind as we strive to help our fellow county residents who are homeless.
Panhandling doesn’t actually help the situation. Contrary to what you may think, most homeless people do not panhandle, and most panhandling is not done by homeless people. Panhandling is most often a business enterprise—one that does not actually help homeless people get back on their feet.
Instead of giving to panhandlers, donate to a service provider or drop your spare change in the red meters around downtown Salt Lake City. That will ensure the money goes to one of the many homeless service providers that can leverage your donation with other resources to help people access not just food, but also help to start to work their way out of homelessness.
The Pamela Atkinson Foundation receives donations from the red meters, and from other sources, and coordinates with local service providers like Catholic Community Services, Fourth Street Clinic, The Road Home, and many more to help fund services. There is a network of experts and service providers standing ready to help.
Panhandling also presents a safety concern when conducted on roadways. That’s why state representative Steve Eliason ran a bill to prohibit that, and it is now illegal. Pedestrians walking onto the road near crowded intersections or on busy downtown streets just opens up too much risk that someone could get hurt.
Lastly, cities want to create a safe, vibrant, and growing community and economy for all of their residents. A key part of that is economic development. When businesses are looking at our cities for potential locations for expansion, it isn’t uncommon for them to drive the streets to understand the community. If panhandling continues, and even flourishes, that is noticeable to potential businesses looking at our cities. A panhandling industry that does not benefit homeless people is not the image a city wants to convey.
Let’s work together to end panhandling. We can actually help homeless people by giving in other ways, we can reduce safety risks of pedestrians in close proximity to busy roadways, and we can empower cities to present the best image of their community for future investors.
I’m encouraged by the current efforts to reform our model of homeless service delivery, and believe that those changes—combined with the thoughtful donations of many county residents, will truly help make a difference.
For more information as well as ways to help, visit the Homeless Outreach Service Team at www.slchost.org.
*Originally published in City Journals
From difficult budget decisions, to jail beds, to homelessness, there’s never any shortage of important and complex challenges facing the Salt Lake County Council. Whenever the countless issues seem particularly daunting, I think back to why it’s so important to try and make progress on behalf of the taxpayers of Salt Lake County.
At the end of June, I took my family to the annual Taylorsville Dayzz festivities. The day started with a ride on the top of my minivan in the Taylorsville Parade. Though I’d prefer to sit down with fellow residents of my hometown and hear about what’s important to them, I still enjoyed riding through the heart of our city along with other community leaders in the parade and seeing so many of you there celebrating our freedom.
By the end of the day my boys and neighbors were singing “Sweet Caroline” at the top of their lungs during the concert and fireworks show. I absolutely love my city and my family.
This is just one community event, in just one city in our great county. There are countless carnivals, parades, and other cultural events that are taking place all across the valley all summer long. For me, these are much more than just a welcome respite from the day to day work of representing my constituents or raising a family. They are brief moments where we celebrate what matters most: working hard to raise our families in a community full of neighbors and friends—in a place where we are free and safe to do so.
Our commitment to family, our sense of community, and our shared vision of a county that is safe, clean, and prosperous is what makes Salt Lake County such a wonderful place.
Whenever I’m working on tough topics with my colleagues at the Council, interacting with our state legislators, or hearing from city mayors, the best motivation is the image our Salt Lake County residents enjoying their community together.
We want streets and trails that are safe and clean. We want economic opportunity and valuable education. We want a platform to build something lasting in our homes and neighborhoods. I love the opportunity to serve on the County Council representing the voters of District 3 as we work together to make all these a reality.
So whenever any of us get a little discouraged with the negativity we see on social media, the partisan divides that seem to afflict so many regions of our country, or the daunting challenges right here in Salt Lake County, just remember what we are fighting for.
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.
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 Councildistrict 3