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Ben McAdams touts 'fiscal responsibility' in State of the County

Published February 5, 2013 2:32 pm

Salt Lake County • New mayor's other goals: Be bipartisan, deliver public works services regionally.
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Democratic Mayor Ben McAdams laid out a three-part vision for Salt Lake County government in his first State of the County speech Tuesday.

He emphasized that, in a rapidly growing valley, the county must take the lead in the delivery of some public works services on a regional basis.

McAdams pledged to pursue his goals while listening to all voices, respecting the perspective of Republicans and Democrats, city residents as well as those in unincorporated areas.

And he promised to be fiscally conservative in implementing his plan.

"Our motivation is to create greater efficiencies and deliver services at a lower cost to our residents," the 38-year-old said. "Fiscal responsibility must guide our decisions."

To that end, McAdams said, he is launching a "top-to-bottom efficiency review" of all county government operations. "We will take an in-depth, comprehensive look at the services we provide and examine whether we are providing the right services, in the right way and at the right size."

That fits into the concept of creating a regional district to provide various public works services to residents of the unincorporated area and participating cities. A review of that complex concept, involving services ranging from snow removal to animal control, began under former Mayor Peter Corroon, who drew McAdams' praise for leaving behind a government that is well-managed, ethical and stable.

"On my watch, the customer is king," McAdams said. "I will advance a consolidated public works system for the residents of our county who choose to participate in pooled and coordinated services."

In the short term, McAdams said, he will continue to promote the development of parks and trails and work to protect the central Wasatch Mountains.

"We must safeguard them for their value as a watershed, as a jobs generator and as a beloved backyard playground for this valley," he said, expecting to work closely with Summit and Wasatch counties on a comprehensive environmental impact statement addressing resource protection, development opportunities and a transportation solution for the canyons.

McAdams wants to create a sustainability council to ensure that all county-government activities are environmentally sound. He also would like to help the education system by expanding after-school offerings through county libraries, parks and recreation facilities, and youth and aging services programs.

All can be done, he said, within existing budgets.

County Council Chairman Steve DeBry, a Republican, applauded the mayor's devotion to collaboration in doing what's best for county residents.

But DeBry added the Republican-majority council "will have vigorous debates" on proposals brought forth by the mayor and on "hot topic" issues, such as the SkiLink proposal to connect Solitude and Canyons ski resorts; a convention center hotel and the Performing Arts Center in downtown Salt Lake City; and the revision of the county's ordinance governing development in the canyons and foothills.

Similarly, Republican Councilman Richard Snelgrove agreed with McAdams' emphasis on protecting and improving quality of life. But, he added, "Now the challenge is to accomplish that in a fiscally prudent manner. We'll be watching carefully to see if it can be done in current budget constraints."

Democratic Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw was pleased the new mayor's "ambitious speech" showed his sensitivity to the needs of unincorporated-area residents as well as people countywide. He endorsed McAdams' commitment to providing a healthier after-school environment for county youths.

The emphasis on regional service delivery impressed two valley mayors in attendance, Mike Winder from West Valley City and Draper's Darrell Smith.

"I'm eager to see how he builds the new partnership," said Winder, who lost to Mark Crockett in the Republican mayoral primary.

Smith added that while it's easy to make grandiose promises, McAdams "is showing his sincerity" in appointing a Republican, former Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall, as his public works and regionalization director. "That's a good start in showing he means what he said."

mikeg@sltrib.comTwitter: @sltribmikeg