*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.
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Aimee Winder Newton
Aimee Winder Newton has served since 2014 and represents Taylorsville, Murray, West Jordan, and West Valley City on the Salt Lake County Council. She was a former 2020 Republican candidate for Utah Governor and was the first woman elected as chair of the Council. Aimee works tirelessly to defend the quality of life in Salt Lake County while protecting tax dollars... [read more]
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aimee winder newton: County Council district 3