Editor’s note • This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s voter guide for the 2022 midterm elections. You can find all the stories in both English and Spanish here.
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Democrats have an opportunity to take control of the Salt Lake County Council, but they’ll need to sweep all three contested races on the fall ballot to do it.
Republicans now hold a 6-3 majority, while Democrats, with Jenny Wilson at the top, have the mayor’s office. If Democrats can flip two seats and retain another, they’ll gain a one-seat edge over the GOP on the part-time council and have the complete reins of county government.
Republican incumbent Richard Snelgrove is trying to fend off Democratic challenger Suzanne Harrison, a member of the Utah House, in his bid for a third six-year term representing the council’s countywide “B” seat.
“My concern is what’s in the best interest of the people I serve, what’s in the best interest of their quality of life,” Snelgrove said. “And I’ve delivered.”
Snelgrove, first elected to the council in 2010, said inflation and the soaring cost of living are the most important issues affecting county residents’ quality of life.
He said the council has pumped millions into affordable housing over the past year, but there’s more to do. He supports exploring incentives for property owners to build accessory dwelling units like mother-in-law apartments and backyard cottages.
He also backs high-density housing in certain places, even though the county does not control most local zoning.
Although the county can do little to prevent inflation, Snelgrove said the council could ease the pain by not piling on new taxes and ensuring existing programs are efficient.
Snelgrove said air quality remains a major concern. He’s been an outspoken critic of a massive proposed limestone quarry and an opponent of a planned gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
He said he would rather spend the money that would be used on the gondola to help the Utah Transit Authority fund no-fare service.
Harrison, who was elected to serve District 32 in the Utah House in 2018, said she decided to seek a council seat after redistricting hurt her prospects of another term on Capitol Hill.
She said she would use her outlook as a physician and mother, coupled with her experience in the Legislature, to advocate for working families.
“It’s important to have some fresh perspectives,” she said, “and fresh ideas.”
Driving down the cost of living, improving northern Utah’s air quality, pushing water conservation, protecting public money and investing in amenities like parks and recreation top Harrison’s list of priorities.
She said inflation and a costly real estate market are stressful for residents, adding that the county needs to do more to make housing more affordable.
“One of the reasons I’m running,” she said, “is that I feel like the council has seemed content to throw their hands up and not help address it.”
She called for ending the food tax, continued investments in housing and prioritizing the use of county Redevelopment Agency dollars on projects that focus on affordable housing and improving air quality.
Harrison committed to serving no more than two terms if voters elect her to the council.
Democrats would also need to turn around the District 3 seat held by incumbent GOP council member Aimee Winder Newton, who is seeking a third four-year term to represent Taylorsville, West Valley City, West Jordan and Murray.
Winder Newton, who was elected to the council in 2014, said she is one of the members of the partisan council who is willing to work across the aisle and value all perspectives.
“I don’t believe that you should get into your tribalistic partisan corners,” she said, “and throw darts at each other.”
She said there isn’t much the council can do about housing affordability because market forces are out of the county’s control and council members have no say over city planning and zoning.
But to help Salt Lake County families in need, Winder Newton supports continuing to invest money from the American Rescue Plan Act in affordable housing projects.
Winder Newton, the newly appointed director of the state’s new Office of Families, said she also wants to work to provide the county with additional mental health resources and support for public safety.
For her part, Liewer, the Democrat, said the county has not fully explored all of the options to make housing more affordable.
The paramedic, clinical leader and health care consultant said the county should assess proposed projects fully to ensure they will be affordable to residents — and hold developers accountable to those plans.
If elected, Liewer wants to prioritize public health and access to equitable services for mental health and substance use disorders. The county, she said, is lacking in offering follow-up resources for those who seek crisis care.
“We don’t have enough (resources) right now,” she said, “to service the communities and the residents in our county.”
She said environmental stewardship and sustainability are critical as Utah’s most populous county grows and resources dwindle. She wants to work on ways to create more free- and reduced-fare public transit, incentivize property owners to create so-called living roofs, and ensure new county developments are carbon neutral.
Soelberg, the United Utah Party contender, said more density is needed to address the county’s housing affordability woes.
“Smaller homes for smaller families and smaller budgets is a great idea,” Soelberg said, “and government has gotten in the way of that over the years.”
The third-party candidate said climate and environmental issues head up his list of priorities. He wants to reduce the region’s dependence on grass.
Soelberg, a former auditor and administrative services manager for the state, said he should get voters’ support because he doesn’t represent a gridlocked two-party system.
“Citizens can rely on me to represent them,” he said, “rather than to represent a party.”
Incumbent council member Arlyn Bradshaw is seeking a fourth term to represent the council’s most liberal district, covering the most urban parts of Salt Lake City. Bradshaw, a Democrat, was first elected to the seat in 2010.
He is up against Republican Richard D.M. Barnes.
Bradshaw said he has proved in his time on the council that he’s a problem solver who can work with his colleagues to get things done.
“We need people in government these days that are serious about governing,” he said, “and willing to work with those other individuals that are serious about governing.”
If reelected, he wants to continue to ensure the criminal justice system is working optimally with prosecutors and public defenders having the resources they need. He also supports expanding treatment programs for Utahns in jail.
Bradshaw put housing as his chief priority, saying he wants to continue investing in affordable housing with money from the American Rescue Plan Act. He said the county should embrace density and support developments that provide walkability around transit opportunities.
Barnes — who previously has run unsuccessfully for Salt Lake City Council, the Utah House and state Senate — suggested charging unhoused residents $3 a night to allow them to set up camps in unused parking lots.
He said the government should not be involved in making housing more affordable along the Wasatch Front. Those who scrape together the money to pay for whatever housing is available, he said, should be the ones to get a roof over their heads.
“Sounds heartless, perhaps, to some people,” he said. “But it just isn’t fair to base it on anything other than the free market.”
Republican Sheldon Stewart, who bounced incumbent Steve DeBry in the GOP primary, is running unopposed for the District 5 post.
Correction, Oct. 17, 11:30 a.m. • An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed comments about housing policy to Richard D.M. Barnes. The policy proposals were made by Arlyn Bradshaw.