This blog has moved to a new site. Please visit

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment