It was just over 20 years ago that I was actively involved in the push for Salt Lake County to switch from county commissioners to a mayor and County Council. Therefore I have watched with interest as Utah County proposes to voters the choice of moving from a three-person County Commission to a mayor and a five-person County Council.
Although today I would vote the same as I did 20 years ago, I would only do so if tighter parameters were put into place. At the time, hope was running high and I believed in a separation of executive and legislative duties.
Our county taxes were rising at an alarming rate and there was little transparency. Residents felt they had no voice. And, much like Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie argues today, we were promised, “the proposal would cut spending on county government.”
Twenty years later, our experience has not played out exactly as many had hoped, and Utah County might want to take note.
My first warning flag in Utah County’s current proposal is that it calls for “a deputy mayor position.” Now, I assume most Utah County residents believe today, as Salt Lake County residents did then, that “a deputy mayor” means one. That was the case in Salt Lake County for several years. For example, Peter Corroon (mayor of Salt Lake County from 2005 to 2013) as recently as 2013 had only one deputy mayor.
However, under then-Mayor, now U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams (Salt Lake County mayor from 2013 to 2019), one deputy mayor turned into four. Now, under Mayor Jenny Wilson, “a deputy mayor” means three deputy mayors and three associate deputy mayors, for a total of six.
So how does a county mayor go from “a deputy mayor” to six deputy mayors? Well, by executive order, of course. And, just in case Mayor Wilson claims to you, as she claims to the media, that she only has three deputy mayors, the Salt Lake County Code specifically states, “A designated associate deputy mayor shall be considered a deputy for all purposes established by Utah statute.”
But, what about the money? What should voters believe when Utah County’s proposal states, “a deputy mayor position with an $80,000 salary”? Well, according to Utah’s transparency website, one of Mayor Wilson’s deputy mayors in Salt Lake County has an annual pay package (wages plus benefits) of $276,000. Another is nearly $225,000, and Wilson has four more.
So when Ivie promises, “the proposal would cut spending on county government by 34%”, I simply say, “Hold on to your wallet.” In just the last six years, Salt Lake County’s budget has ballooned almost 50% to a whopping $1.4 billion.
Last year, Salt Lake County proposed one of its largest tax increases ever, citing necessary expenses as the reason. So what did Wilson do with your money? She quickly hired yet another high-paid deputy.
If Utah County residents choose a mayor and County Council form of government, I implore you, please, learn from your neighboring county to the north. Do not become lax in your watch of the mayor and County Council. Do not be lulled into complacency as your county mayor raises your taxes while expanding her office, filling it with salaried staff, who are quickly on their way to millionaire status on the backs of you, the taxpayer.
Laurie Stringham, Kearns, is a candidate for an at-large seat on the Salt Lake County Council.