Salt Lake County mayor pushes preschool, community grants
Salt Lake County government will be an active player in shaping "the future we choose" rather than just responding to a fast-changing world, Mayor Ben McAdams said Tuesday in his "State of the County" speech.
The Democratic mayor outlined several initiatives that will be launched this year, his second in office, to shape a future in which "all our kids can receive a quality education and aren't kept from recess because the air is too polluted to breathe.
"When they graduate," he added, his goal is to ensure "a good-paying job is available, right here, in Salt Lake County."
McAdams didn't dwell on air-quality issues like his close counterpart, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, did in his "State of the City" address last week.
He focused instead on increasing support for preschool education as a means of saving the county money in the long term, producing more contributors to society and fewer people likely to face costly incarcerations.
Besides expanding a program the county established with Granite School District and United Way that extended preschool studies to 600 low-income students, McAdams said he will work closely with Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, on legislation to help about 3,000 children statewide gain access to similar building-block studies.
Hughes is seeking a $5 million state appropriation from the Legislature to get the program rolling.
To build Salt Lake's economic foundation, McAdams said the county is establishing a "community planning grant" to help other local governments with projects of regional economic significance. The first such grant will go to Taylorsville to revitalize an outdated shopping center.
He also is launching a 311 system, a "one-stop call option" designed to connect county residents with the appropriate agency when county residents call with questions about government services.
The mayor said he will keep trying to get all of the valley's public safety dispatch systems onto the same software platform. The county has provided money to mesh two existing systems and accelerate 911 emergency responses, but law enforcement agencies have not yet agreed to a merger.
Building a desirable future also requires the county to protect community assets in place now, McAdams said, particularly those that inspire people to do grand things.
So the county will invest in new exhibits for Clark Planetarium, finish several key sections of the Jordan River trail and complete construction of the Jessie E. Quinney Ballet Center next door to a renovated Capitol Theatre, he said.
The county will ask voters this fall to renew the ZAP tax a sales tax that provides funding for zoo, arts and parks projects, big and small.
In addition, the county will spend $12.5 million on deferred maintenance projects.
"On my watch, we will not kick the can down the road," McAdams said. "These are assets built by taxpayers that we must preserve. With this down payment, we're on track to reduce the county's maintenance backlog to sustainable levels within five years."
Council Chairman Michael Jensen said he and the four other Republican members are comfortable with the direction the county is going under McAdams' lead.
"We'll always have our challenges going forward," he said. "I didn't hear anything that causes concern. We're not going to agree on every small point, but in general, our philosophical approaches are the same and we are working closely together."
Steve DeBry, whose just-ended stint as council chairman coincided with McAdams' first year in office, said there's no question the mayor is sincere in his hopes of preparing the county for the future.
But the Republican from South Jordan has reservations about some of McAdams' proposals, such as whether local government should be involved in pushing preschool education.
"Are we entering into a situation where we're not supposed to be?" he asked, then provided his own answer: "The state and education dollars should pay for preschool."
Democrat Arlyn Bradshaw, the council minority leader, said McAdams did "a good job in his first year and he's starting to be creative in finding solutions to the issues people in Salt Lake County really care about."
He applauded the mayor's agenda for "doing things that a growing community needs its regional government to do."
Aimee Winder Newton on Tuesday became the only woman on the nine-member Salt Lake County Council and the council's first Republican woman.
Newton, 39, will represent District 3, in the center of the valley, serving the last 11 months of the term of David Wilde, who resigned to take a job in the county district attorney's office. She was selected last week by members of the Salt Lake County Republican Party.
"As I've interacted with council members and staff over the last few weeks, I've been impressed with their dedication and their willingness to serve the people of Salt Lake County," Newton said after taking the oath of office and introducing the council to her family. She is a mother of four.
Her brother, Mike Winder, who just finished his duties as West Valley City mayor, gave council members a little friendly warning.
"Look out, you've got Aimee coming," he said.