*Originally published in City Journals
With the state legislative session underway, the Salt Lake County Council is keeping an eye on a number of bills that could impact our county residents. Although there will be many interesting issues, here are some that I will be paying particular interest to.
Over the last year, homelessness has been a focal point of county, state, and city leaders in the Salt Lake area. With the spike in criminal behavior and victimization in the Rio Grande district of downtown Salt Lake, and with help from Operation Rio Grande, much of our time has been spent discussing solutions and allocating additional resources. We appreciate our state partners in this endeavor.
Though Operation Rio Grande has had many successes, we’re certainly not finished. Providing the right tools for our homeless residents to get back on their feet is a long-term effort. As any legislation arises to fund homeless services or alter current programs or resources, we’ll examine how it accomplishes the goals to help all our Salt Lake County residents be successful.
Part of solving the homelessness crisis also must include affordable housing. Far too many county residents can’t find suitable housing that they can afford, while struggling to make ends meet. Currently, community reinvestment projects must set aside 10 percent of their budget to go toward affordable housing. This is a helpful funding stream that shouldn’t be taken away without a suitable replacement source of funding.
The best way to address the homeless issue is a combination of law enforcement response to the criminal element (specifically targeting the drug trade), short-term resources for housing and other immediate services so families no longer have to live on the streets, and longer term jobs, education and training options so they have the skills and resources to become self-sufficient. These long-term resources will naturally have to include affordable housing as a key component. I look forward to the work of our legislators to move these goals forward this session.
Last year the County Council approved my proposal to launch the Salt Lake County Intergenerational Poverty Task Force to look at ways to increase access to opportunity for those residents who are struggling the most to make ends meet. I’m hopeful that legislation this session will move us closer to accomplishing the goal of expanded opportunity, upward mobility, and empowering impoverished Utahns with the tools to earn their success and climb out of poverty.
Lastly, I’m encouraged by Governor Gary Herbert’s recent creation of the youth suicide task force. I’ve written in detail about this issue before, as it touches many of us personally, and all too painfully. I hope that with more efforts as a community, we can increasingly convey hope and help to each and every teen who may be struggling.
I’ll continue fighting for better resources, like the wildly successful SafeUT app, and the proposed three digit crisis line, to help our teens overcome any mental health crises they face, and take a step forward into a life filled with more happiness and hope. We owe this to our children.
These issues are often weighty and difficult to fix. But that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the good work done by so many in Utah who serve in state, county, and city leadership roles. I look forward to the tremendous progress we can make as we work together as Utahns in the coming year.
*Originally published in City Journals
Salt Lake County funds a multitude of efforts throughout the valley. The largest portion of our general fund goes to criminal justice in one form or another, which includes the Adult Detention Center (county jail) and the Oxbow Jail. Between that and the many recreational amenities, regional government services, necessary elected office functions, and contributions to various efforts, the county budget can have a significant impact on a number of different issues.
My priority for every budget process is the same, and I ask the following questions of each expenditure or proposal we review: 1) Is this the proper role of county government? 2) Does this invest in an area that will save taxpayer money in the long run? 3) Does this needlessly duplicate efforts already under way by another entity? 4) Is this the highest and best use of these dollars?
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.
My goal is to always ensure that every taxpayer dollar we spend is used wisely, efficiently, and allocated through a transparent process. This budget process was certainly transparent, and includes many prudent expenditures in line with county priorities.
Though I opposed the final version of the budget for the reasons mentioned above, I still appreciate the noteworthy and important items we were able to fund.
First and foremost, our budget provides funding to fully open the Oxbow Jail. 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. These are needed components of Operation Rio Grande and, along with other investment in our criminal justice system, will go a long way to positively impact neighborhoods negatively affected by crime. This will also better equip the county to connect people trapped in homelessness or drug addiction with needed treatment and resources to help their situation.
Most importantly to me, this budget accomplishes all of these goals without a 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. I voted to refrain from the temptation of using fund balance to pay for add-ons to the budget in large part to prevent a future tax increase for as long as possible.
I’m confident that 2018 will be a great year, and I look forward to all the good things to come in Salt Lake County.
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.
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