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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

AAA Bond Rating

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams praised his fiscal management team and the Salt Lake County Council after receiving notice that Fitch Ratings, a national ratings firm, has assigned new, higher financial ratings to Salt Lake County bonds, including its transportation tax revenue bonds and its sales tax revenue bonds. Salt Lake County is one of 41 counties nationally—among 3,140 overall—to earn this distinction.

“This confirms the county’s financial health and also sends a strong signal that we’re a good long-term investment. It speaks to our determination to be a government with a fiscally-responsible balance sheet and a careful eye on budgets,” said Mayor McAdams.

Chief Financial Officer Darrin Casper says the county has been notified by Fitch Ratings that not only will it retain its triple-A rating on its general obligation bonds, but that several categories have been upgraded to either AA+ or AAA. Casper said that with such an excellent credit score, Salt Lake County will pay less interest and save taxpayer dollars when it enters the market with an upcoming issuance of general obligation bonds in the amount of $22 million as the second stage of parks, trails and open space expenditures. Salt Lake County voters approved a $47 million parks and trails bond measure during a 2012 election.

“Salt Lake County remains one of the top 41 counties nationwide for financial strength.  Sound, conservative fiscal policies have made this possible, along with prudent financial management by elected officials of both parties and our competent staff,” said County Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove.

“I’m proud of our fiscal management team. They serve the taxpayers well in how they manage governmental operations and the financial world clearly is taking notice,” said McAdams. “Once again, Salt Lake County is demonstrating what it means to be a thriving metropolitan area that focuses on efficient and responsive government.”

See the SL Trib article on this great news!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Salt Lake County Council passes the 2016 budget!

Over the past few weeks the Salt Lake County Council has been scrutinizing the budget. We approved $2.1 million in cuts and included funding for indigent defense, deferred maintenance, and criminal justice reform.

Tonight the council finalized and passed the budget for 2016. Our total budget is $1.1 billion. Much of those funds are pass-through dollars, so our general fund is around $304 million.

Salt Lake County is seeing an increase in jail bookings and we let 8000 criminals per year walk because of lack of space. Building and operating more jail beds is very expensive, so as a county we are looking for ways to reform criminal justice. Because there are so many criminal justice needs, the council considered extending a tax that was instituted for the jail bond 20 years ago. The bond is paid off at the end of this year and would free up $9.4 million.

If there was no tax extension, residents would get $18 back annually because of the jail bond. This extension means there is no tax increase, but residents won’t get a refund, either.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the Salt Lake County Council have been working on criminal justice reform through a bipartisan effort. We have been working together to make sure tax dollars are spent wisely and public safety needs are met.

These are my comments from the final budget meeting tonight:

"I came to our budget meeting a few weeks ago with a list of $4 million in proposed cuts to the budget. My goal was two-fold – first, to fund indigent defense and deferred maintenance in information technology. Second, my goal was to be able to move the sheriff and DA’s budgets out of this $9.4 million amount for criminal justice reform.

We were able to do some of these things, but not all. I know it’s not popular to continue a tax that some thought was promised to end. I don’t think 20 years ago anyone could’ve imagined that mental health issues would be so problematic, that the severity of crimes would be increasing at such an astonishing rate, and that we would have such a serious drug problem threatening our society.

Public safety is our number one responsibility. Last week I considered not voting to continue the tax, but as the days went on, my gut said otherwise. I believe it would be irresponsible to not spend the money necessary to find long-term solutions to this problem. How easy it would be to tell my conservative base that I will not raise taxes, and yet how completely sick I would feel to look away and pretend we don’t have the problems that we do while criminals roam free on our streets, and while we continue to have four-month long waiting lists for substance abuse treatment.

It is less expensive and more fiscally responsible to help people with substance abuse and mental health issues, than it is to lock them up. So I make my decision tonight based on the future – my children and your children’s future. If we continue to kick the can down the road, nothing will change, and our problems will only get worse and more expensive. I am asking the people of Salt Lake County to support us as we continue this tax – approximately $18 per year for the average homeowner – to reform our criminal justice system."

Last week Councilman DeBry and I spoke about our aversion to taking taxpayer dollars without a set purpose. We have heard from our constituents that they would like to see us make more cuts before keeping their hard-earned dollars for criminal justice reform. So tonight we proposed a half million dollars in additional cuts. We also extended the tax and allocated the $9.4 million for criminal justice reform to fund the following:

1.     A receiving center so we can assess and then refer mental health and substance abusers and get them into treatment to lighten the load of the jail.
2.     Mental health and substance abuse programs that coordinate with probation.
3.     Prioritize the opening of a Community Corrections Center in 2017.
4.     A data program that allows us to compare jail bookings with participation in behavioral health services to determine evidence-based results in reducing recidivism.

I am grateful for the many constituents who contacted my office to find out what was going on with this issue. I am also grateful for those who took my criminal justice survey. Over 80 percent said they would rather see money go for programs than more jail beds. Over 60 percent said they prefer we make cuts and extend the tax this year, rather than doing it next year or looking at more costly measures down the road.

Here is the Salt Lake Tribune article that gives more information about what happened.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Should the Salt Lake County Council extend the jail bond tax to pay for criminal justice reform?

This is one of the most important issues we have faced since I began my service on the council - criminal justice reform.

Our number one priority is public safety. Since the jail is the single largest drain on the budget, it is something I believe we need to closely scrutinize. We are seeing an increase in jail bookings and because we don't have room for everyone, we let 600 people per month walk. Operating more jail beds is very expensive, so as a county we are looking for ways to reform criminal justice. That may include having a receiving center with a magistrate who can quickly make decisions on where people need to be. It may include more detox beds so we aren't using precious jail space for those who just need an overnight detox. It may include opening another pod at Oxbow Jail. It may include more mental health and substance abuse programs to rehabilitate, so people don't keep cycling in and out of jail. It could also include building a community corrections center to help us do this.

Because there are so many needs in this arena, the council is looking at extending a tax that was instituted for the jail bond 20 years ago. The bond is paid off at the end of this year and would free up $9.4 million for criminal justice reform.

We have some real needs to address. I began by proposing $4 million in cuts to the Salt Lake County budget. (You can read about that here.) Avoiding wasteful spending is one of my priorities, and so is investing in the future so we can save tax dollars down the road. Criminal justice reform is something that is critical.

I want to hear from you! Please answer these two questions on my survey and let me know YOUR thoughts. You can also leave comments below.

Aimee's Criminal Justice Survey

(As a side note, some of my constituents received a post card in the mail about this issue, funded by an out-of-state special interest group. It has misinformation such as, "Salt Lake County wants to hike taxes yet again!" (We haven't raised taxes since I have been on the council, and I believe the last tax increase was in 2012.) The flyer says this would be the third tax increase this year, but doesn't specify who the other tax increases were from. They were not from Salt Lake County. It also says that the tax extension will increase taxes by $9.4 million per year. (It is an extension, not a new tax, so taxes will not increase by that amount.) Don't believe everything you read in the paper, or in the mailbox!)