Salt Lake County Counsil's Message
Jul 06, 2016 10:54AM ● Published by Bryan Scott
By Steven L. DeBry, County Council District 5
As your member of the Salt Lake County Council, I take very seriously my responsibility to set budgets and monitor the use of your tax dollars. I place high value on fiscal responsibility and transparency. Any chance I have to encourage those values in the use of public funds is an opportunity I will not ignore.
I had just such an opportunity in May when the Utah Transit Authority announced the closure of their committee meetings to the public. The meetings had previously been open, and that concerned me. Closing meetings to the public would not only be a potential violation of the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act, but would shut out the public from the decision-making process that determines the use of their own tax dollars. This was wrong.
Salt Lake County assesses over $150 Million annually in sales tax and fees on behalf of UTA. Those tax dollars were authorized by taxpayers, and were earmarked for public transportation. In order to give some perspective, $150 Million annually represents twice as much as the full cost of our County Sheriff’s budget, which includes the County Jail, and protective and security type services for all our County facilities. $150 Million is also 3 times as much as our annual costs to operate our full County Library system. That’s 18 libraries! Determining how to spend that money should be done in the open, with plenty of public input, and appropriate media scrutiny as well.
When asked by a local newspaper reporter why the meetings were closed, the Board Chair of UTA said, “You want to know the truth? Because you screw us up!”
Seeing the problem, Councilman Richard Snelgrove and I decided to take action to preserve the public’s right to hold UTA accountable, and to keep their meetings transparent. During the May 17th Council meetings, Councilman Snelgrove and I pledged that if UTA refused to open their meetings, we would work on changes to our County Ordinances that would allow us to delay distribution of some of that $150 Million until those meetings were re-opened to the public. “If transparency screws you up,” I said, “transparency isn’t the problem.”
To UTA’s credit, after potentially serious consequences were raised by the County Council, they agreed to re-open their meetings to the public. That is as it should be. I am pleased UTA will keep those meetings open, and allow the public the access that they so richly deserve. You can count on me, as your representative on the County Council, to continue supporting efforts to improve accountability and scrutinize the use of your tax dollars.
If you ever see misuse or waste of County taxpayer funds, please contact me. I can be reached at (385) 468 7458.