SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson proposed next year’s billion-dollar budget to the Salt Lake County Council Thursday. She said this year’s budget is a road map for the county to fund traditional programs, but to also address the ongoing and lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Wilson has proposed a $1.5 billion budget and plans to spend $64.3 million in federal pandemic funding.
“Simply put, this budget has meticulously sorted the nickels, dimes, and quarters in the blended pile of coins for maximum impact,” she said.
The federal funding comes through the American Rescue Plan Act, and Mayor Wilson said it is not all of the ARPA allocations, as the funds are available until the end of 2024, and the county hasn’t received the full appropriation.
If the budget is approved by the County Council, Mayor Wilson said it will help in building communities.
“We’re a county with 20 some-odd communities, cities, and townships,” she said.
The Mayor proposed Thursday that funding would go towards 13 different departments.
“We really look at our base budget and say, ‘Where do we need to tweak? How do we do things differently?’” she said.
Health crisis and health department
Mayor Wilson said she hopes to give the Salt Lake County Health Department additional funding to aid in pandemic relief and to ensure the health and safety of all residents, with a particular focus on communities that have been left behind.
“Our Health Department seeks to become less condition-centric and move toward a more holistic, community-centric public health model,” she said. “One that evaluates and discovers the root causes of a community’s health concerns and works with local partners to implement solutions.”
Parks, recreation, and trails
Mayor Wilson emphasized that parks, playgrounds, pathways, and libraries are vital to people’s physical and mental well-being.
She said the County will continue to build and maintain pickleball courts, swim lanes, trailheads, etc.
“We can’t continue to just pack people into our Wasatch Range and our state lands. We’ve got to look at new opportunities, there’s a lot of growth in the southwest valley,” she said.
Human services/homelessness/criminal justice
Mayor Wilson said the ARPA funding has provided an opportunity to work with several partnerships with the state, non-profit organizations, and philanthropists, in helping those most in need.
“Our community has the biggest heart in the nation when it comes to supporting those facing substance abuse, with mental health concerns, those with housing needs, and those with non-violent offenses who have misstepped with the law but are ready for a second chance,” Mayor Wilson said. “We partner, we engage, we problem solve and when there is a way to support a pathway to recovery and self-sufficiency, we embrace it.”
Salt Lake County is facing a shortage of nearly 23,000 affordable homes. Mayor Wilson acknowledged the shortage and said her budget aims to use the federal funding and work with community partners to ease the burden many people face.
“Affordable housing – at all levels of household income – is not attainable in this market without partnerships between builders, non-profit housing providers, government agencies, and the philanthropic community,” she said.
Jail release program
Mayor Wilson’s budget proposal also includes funding to remodel a section of the jail where inmates, once released, are able to be for a time before leaving the facility.
The Mayor also said caseworkers will be there to support and provide individuals with resources.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mayor Wilson said hunger became an even greater problem. And now, with her budget, she’s hoping to invest even more to stop food insecurity.
“County’s Food Security working group to continue collaboration efforts with the State of Utah and other municipal and community partners to deepen the focus on food security in our community,” she said.
Mayor Wilson said over 700 Afghan refugees are arriving soon in Utah and the 2022 budget includes funding for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Council on Diversity affair to implement measurable actions toward addressing equity, access, institutional reform, and racial justice.
“Additionally, the Office is developing a robust internship program focused on providing rich experiences to students from groups historically underrepresented,” she said.
Water conservation and planning
The Mayor said the budget also includes funding to water conservation and planning, and to commit to engage with municipal partners to develop new land use standards aimed at water conservation.
She said the money would also be set aside to xeriscape the Bingham Creek Library; a non-culinary water source installation at the Riverton Golf Course; and funds to begin the process of increasing the efficiency of irrigation systems at nearly a dozen county parks.
County elected officials
Mayor Wilson also said of the proposed budget that she would like to use $6 million to modernize the tax administration system, a project which she said will enhance the services of multiple offices.
In 2022, Mayor Wilson said she would like to provide holistic reforms to the workforce, operations and workspaces to meet the needs of post-COVID demands and opportunities.
“I am proposing an internal program intended to incentivize efficiency, process reforms, cost savings, and innovations within our systems. Divisions, departments, and agencies can apply for funding if they have well-thought-out plans that will positively impact the bottom line,” she said.
Human resources investment
The 2022 budget also includes an investment in the function of human resources and its process of modernization.
“[It] provides an investment that will focus on enhanced recruitment and retention as well as timely service to the county’s divisions, departments, offices, and portfolios,” Mayor Wilson said.
The Mayor said there’s a consensus to invest in capital facility maintenance.
She said the funding would go toward flood control, canal property acquisition, replacement of the Marv Jenson pool, the rebuilding of the Valley Regional Park softball complex, security enhancements at the jail, etc.
Commitment to employees
Without county employees, Mayor Wilson said nothing can be done without their efforts. She’s proposing the minimum wage for full-time employees be raised to $15 per hour.
“Is it enough? No. Inflation is impacting us, but we do have realities of what we’re able to do in Salt Lake County,” she said.
Overall, the Mayor said the 2022 budget includes nearly $8 million to help stabilize public safety staffing.
This billion-dollar budget now goes to the County Council to decide whether not they will approve the Mayor’s proposal.