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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Want to Volunteer with Salt Lake County??

Photo taken by Tom Smart, Deseret News
Every year Salt Lake County Volunteer Services presents its annual report to the Salt Lake County Council. With Utah being the number one state in the nation for volunteering (nine years running), Salt Lake County relies heavily on volunteers for everything from cleaning up invasive species along the Jordan River to helping out with Meals on Wheels.
Salt Lake County offers residents 70 different programs and 100 boards and commissions on which to serve. You can find more information about how to serve on one of those boards here. On just those programs, boards, and commissions, over 23,800 people volunteered their time and talents. Those 23,800 people spent over 719,700 hours volunteering! That’s the equivalent of about 346 full time county employees and a savings of $16,625,539.

While these numbers are fantastic, the number of volunteers is slightly declining in Salt Lake County, following a nation-wide trend. The “baby-boomer” generation is moving from a position of assisting others to needing assistance. Because baby-boomers were such a key source of volunteers, we are in need of younger generations to step in and replace the aging generation. Volunteering offers the to learn a new skill, add additional meaning and purpose, perform a higher good, and expand personal horizons. To make a difference in our community visit the Salt Lake County Volunteer Services website at

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

ZAP focus: Taylorsville Bennion Heritage Center

Written by the Taylorsville Historic Preservation Committee

In February 2002, the City of Taylorsville purchased the remaining two and one half acres of the Jones Dairy Farm including the Jones family home, and the property became the Taylorsville Bennion Heritage Center (TBHC).  Located on historic 4800 South, the TBHC started out with a historic house museum in the Jones family home which was built in 1906. The museum has been decorated to reflect what a home might have looked like in the early nineteen hundreds.  This is a hand’s on museum; there are no roped off areas you cannot explore.

Over the years the TBHC has grown to include several out buildings.  Behind the museum is a three car garage filled with more historic artifacts.  Also on the property are a replica one-room school house, a replica blacksmith shop, a farm implement barn, an outhouse, and the old dairy store which is now available to be rented for gatherings such as birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, wedding receptions, family reunions, meetings, play rehearsals, piano recitals, and many other uses.
Since the beginning, the Taylorsville Bennion Heritage Center has been a community asset.  The Deseret News in February 2002 called it “the city’s historic treasure” and “a local historic landmark”.  The members of the Taylorsville Historic Preservation Committee, who operate this facility on behalf of the City of Taylorsville, believes in partnering with other standing city committees as well as other community resources for the benefit of all.  The Taylorsville community gardens are housed at the TBHC, and they run out of space every year because so many people would like to have a small plot of land to grow vegetables.

Several community members lease space from the city to house their farm animals in the barns at the TBHC.  They make these animals are available for viewing and petting by visitors.  In return the visitors get a small taste of what farm life was like in early Taylorsville including the sounds and smells.  The Taylorsville Arts Council uses the dairy store to rehearse their annual musical, and  many scouts have earned their eagle because of projects at the TBHC.

The museum houses artifacts from some of the earliest settlers of Taylorsville.  In the Carpenter shop are wood working tools which belonged to Archibald Frame, Sr. and Jr., and may well have been used to build the Jones family home and the Salt Lake Temple.  In the scout display is the sash showing the badges earned by the 2nd person in the Salt Lake Valley to receive his eagle.  Many of the tools in the blacksmith shop were belonged to William Deverall – owner of one of the first blacksmith shops in Taylorsville.  On display is a square grand piano built in about 1895 and originally owned by Adam S. Bennion, and a pump organ that was used in the first LDS Ward house in the Bennion area.   There are wedding dresses from some of our early settlers.

The Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) grants received by the TBHC have been a key element in our efforts to spread the word of us to the community.  Since 2009, these grants have paid for the bus service to bring elementary school classes to our facility on a field trip.  We have had from 1500 to 2000 students plus their teachers, aides, and parent volunteers visit our facility each year for the past 7 years.  We are pleased to be able to offer this program again this year.  Every year, we have some students who are so excited about their visit that they bring their parents back for a more in depth, hands-on experience.  Many of the same teachers bring their classes every year.  They even start scheduling their spring visits in September.  Because of the success of this program, we are able to expose many more residents of Taylorsville to our unique facility and hopefully ignite in them an interest in the history of their community.  This is an invaluable opportunity.

The ZAP grants also allow us to provide handouts to the teachers such as twenty questions, word search puzzles, and other activities that the students can do back in the classroom to reinforce what they learned on the field trip.  These teacher packets also include a bibliography of history and other related books that teachers can check out from the museum.  We also include written histories of Taylorsville such as the booklet, “History of the Jones Dairy House in Taylorsville, Utah”.
We are very appreciative of the support of our city’s elected officials, the members of our community, and the ZAP organization.  We could not function without this continued support.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Criminal Justice reform is needed

Ever since I took office in January of 2014, criminal justice reform has been at the forefront of nearly every conversation we have about the budget. Now the county is in a position to either build more pods to house more prisoners or can invest in alternatives to keep low-risk offenders from cycling in and out of jail. Nearly one-third of homeless people are booked into jail in a 12-month period and during that same period the average offender was booked on two new charges and spent an average of three months in jail. The jail has become housing for the homeless and that was never intended to be its use.

The homeless population isn’t the only issue that the jail faces. The mentally ill and those with substance abuse disorders are also a high priority. Data shows that the mentally ill spend twice as long in jail than the non-mentally ill inmate. This presents a huge problem that costs money, staffing, and time that is costly to taxpayers. The bottom line is that our jail is crowded. When the jail opened there was a capacity of 2,000 beds and since that time the population of Salt Lake County has grown by 230,000 people. The Sheriff estimates 7,761 individuals will be released from the jail due to overcrowding this year alone. 

In 1995 taxpayers agreed to pay for the new jail at $9.4 million per year for 20 years. This December the bond will be expired. Normally when a bond is expired that money is sent back to the taxpayer. Instead, this proposal asks taxpayers to continue paying that $9.4 million for the foreseeable future. There would not be an increase to a resident's tax bill, but they would not receive an $18 per year decrease.

In 2014, the Salt Lake County Jail saw a 17 percent increase in the number of new felony charge bookings. The same year, the District Attorney’s office experienced a 12 percent increase in criminal cases brought for screening by law enforcement. The Legal Defender’s Association is similarly seeing increased caseloads. County probation caseloads are too high to provide effective supervision and successful interventions. Nearly 30 percent of the homeless population was booked into jail in a 12-month period. The average offender was booked for two new charges and spent an average of three months in jail. The staggering impact of this “revolving door” at the jail costs the sheriff and jail staff time, money and does nothing to deal with the underlying cause. For those in jail, there are the costs to them personally, to their families and ultimately to the surrounding community. 

 A just-completed independent study by The Council of State Governments Justice Center found:

  • One out of three people on pretrial supervision and one out of two people on county probation do not fulfill the requirements of their supervision.
  • People with mental illnesses stay longer in jail and return more frequently than people without mental illnesses.
Collaboration is occurring between state leaders, the county council, county mayor, county sheriff, county district attorney, county Human Services Department, the Criminal Justice Advisory Council and others to reinvest criminal and social justice dollars more effectively. All are working together to achieve the following outcomes:
  • Reduce incarceration for low level offenders
  • Reduce recidivism by implementing programs proven to work
  • Promote substance abuse and mental health treatment as viable and widely available alternatives to incarceration.
  • Maintain a focus on public safety while looking for opportunities to strengthen prevention efforts.

If this tax extension passes, I would push for a working group made up of the council, sheriff, DA, mayor's office, behavioral health, criminal justice staff, and other stakeholders, to figure out priorities for these funds. I believe it would be irresponsible not to make some drastic changes now to criminal justice. The longer we wait, the bigger the problem becomes, the longer it takes to make changes, and the more expensive it becomes for taxpayers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Should government tell businesses what they can sell?

Yesterday during our Salt Lake County Council meeting we discussed a proposed ordinance that banned the sale of dogs, cats or rabbits, unless they are obtained from a shelter. This ordinance was proposed in order to keep "puppy mills" from gaining traction.

I support our "no-kill" animal shelter philosophy in Salt Lake County. I am extremely proud of our animal services division and the great work they do. I abhor puppy mills and I am in favor of humane treatment of our animals.

I was the lone "No" vote on this ordinance, however.

The Deseret News article reads:
The County Council passed the ordinance 6-1, with Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton casting the lone dissenting vote.
"I'm not a big fan of government imposing undue regulations on businesses, especially when it's a regulation for regulation sake," Newton said. "We aren't having an issue with this currently in unincorporated Salt Lake County, so I'm having a hard time wrapping my arms around passing an ordinance when we really don't know who it might affect in the future."

According to the ordinance sponsor, we currently do not have any pet stores that are having a problem with this. So now government is imposing a law, that is really not needed. At least not right now. Maybe not ever.

I don't believe government should add unnecessary regulations to businesses. Government definitely has a legitimate role to play in growing the economy. We should create a level playing field for businesses and enforce contracts. But this ordinance gave me heartburn, not because I don't love doggies and kitties, but because we are actually telling a business where they have to obtain animals that they are selling.

What if a shelter doesn't have a certain kind of dog available and a store owner has customers who wants to buy? What if my neighbor's dog had puppies that they want to give to a pet store to sell? Now we are telling people what they can and can't do. We are increasing the burden on shelters (funded by taxpayers) because people will have to give their pets to an animal shelter instead of allowing a pet store to sell their animals.

This is unnecessary. Government should not be passing "message laws" that only place more burden on private enterprise. Especially when the problem trying to be solved (puppy mills) is not even a problem in Salt Lake County. I do support educating the public on this issue through a resolution. It is good to encourage animal adoptions through a rescue organization or shelter.