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The City Journals

Water conservation, County-wide law enforcement labor shortage characterize final SLCO town hall

May 14, 2019 12:34PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

Four mayors, one picture. West Jordan (WJ) Mayor Jim Riding, Salt Lake County (SLCO) Mayor Jenny Wilson, Kearns Metro Township (KMT) Mayor Kelly Bush, and Magna Township Mayor (MTM) Don Peay discussed West-side development at the fifth and final cross-county town hall series by SLCO.
(Photo Credit: Salt Lake County.)


By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

County-wide water conservation and concerns about a law-enforcement labor shortage headlined the tail end of a five-site, cross-county town-hall tour, ending Thursday, May 9, at Salt Lake County (SLCO) Element Event Center in Kearns Metro Township (KMT).

Water conscientiousness, conservation ‘an absolute priority’ for west side 

SLCO Mayor Jenny Wilson says she has Kentucky Blue Grass on the lawn of her Federal Heights home, for her kids to play in, but indicates the whole County needs to gear up for water conservation, and that, through conservation and water-wise planning, grass can co-exist with a conscientious yard.

The key is conscientiousness for individuals and cognizance per legislators and the County.

Per Wilson, if the sweet carrot of conservation does not invoke restricted water usage? Then the smarting stick of price regulation will change—must change—County residents’ water usage. 

A question/answer session with the mayor yielded her comments, wherein she lightly chided previous SLCO administrations’ ambiguous or even agnostic treatment of environmental issues and underscoring what she promises to be elevated concerns about environmentalism during her administration. 

“You are right to be critical of the County,” Mayor Wilson acknowledged. “To date, we have not been very strong on environmental issues.”

Indicating what she depicts as new-found County courage and strength with regards to environmentalism, she asserted, “Water conservation is an absolute priority.”

The matter is of particular concern for West-side development, where “We will only have the water if we change our practices,” she said, adding “We have got to change the conversation in our state.”

It is a consistent theme Wilson has been building, since delivering her “State of the County” speech in March, when Wilson announced her commitment to creating a new Office of Environmental Services. 

County also concerned about law enforcement talent shortage

During a presentation either she or a representative of her staff had delivered throughout the five-site, cross-county town hall, SLCO Sheriff Rosa “Rosie” Rivera diverted attention to a concern about SLCO law enforcement being understaffed and experiencing considerable challenge attracting talent in a Salt Lake Metro and state economy with less than three percent unemployment.

Law enforcement compensation is a hot-button in the Salt Lake Metro area. According to Police Sgt. Kevin Hunter with the SLCO Sheriff’s office, there is a 600-person statewide shortage, for law enforcement personnel. SLCO’s jail management accounts for 116 of those jobs, resulting in what Hunter says is a 26 percent open headcount.

Early-to-mid-May saw Salt Lake City (SLC) officers reportedly pleading with the City Council for higher pay and the capital city’s Council approving budgeting for nearly twice the officers proposed by SLC Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s staffing request.

Mid-month, South Salt Lake (SSL) Mayor Cherie Wood proposed the city’s first property-tax hike in a decade – a 31 percent increase – to fund pay raises for police and firefighters, amid what she says are some of the lowest responder salaries across the Salt Lake Valley.

 “It’s very important that we get enough staff, so if you know people in law enforcement, it would be great to send them my way,” Rivera closed, to a loud round of applause. Rivera pointed out that SLCO runs continuous police academies year-round, has raised starting wages for officers, and—thanks to new legislation—as of July 1, SLCO can hire individuals as young as 19 years of age to work in the jail.

Mayor Wilson addresses additional concerns as ‘a friendly bureaucracy, efficient bureaucracy’

In addition to addressing water conservation, the Mayor addressed residents’ and elected officials’ concerns, ranging from security along the Jordan River amid the near-term severing of services (June 30) and legislated closure (Sept. 30) of The Road Home Homeless shelter and a transition plan to three Homeless Resource Centers (HRCs) dispersed through Salt Lake City and neighboring South Salt Lake City.

Kearns-specific issues seemed limited to questions about development issues surrounding the still-new metro township form of government Kearns migrated to circa 2016, to grumblings about years-long delays in SLCO’s developing the Oquirrh Park green space.

In depicting the County’s relationship with KMT and other west-side metro townships like Magna, Wilson noted, “We’re a friendly bureaucracy, and an efficient bureaucracy.” The Mayor also emphasized SLCO’s regional transportation and connectivity responsibilities and stressed her administration’s and SLCO’s overall “problem-solving capabilities.”

Cross-county town-hall tour hits final stop

Stop five on a cross-county town-hall tour landed Mayor Wilson and a team of elected officials and the departments that support them squarely at the most magnificent and newest site of the tour—the SLCO Element Event Center in Kearns. Prior to the Thursday, May 9 town hall in Kearns, SLCO held town halls in South Jordan, Draper, Millcreek and the SLCO Complex itself. 

The town halls were ambitiously executed, just months after Wilson assumed office late January. (Wilson advanced to the Mayoral position via a special-election by the Democratic Party, after former Democratic SLCO Mayor Ben McAdams’s ascension to the national political sphere, joining the United States House of Representatives, defeating former Republican representative Mia Love in the November 2018 election.)


The Element Event Center venue and comments on Kearns

Kearns residents Alex and Nancy Aerts said attending the town hall afforded them their first time inside the Element Events Center.

“A west-side kid who’s proud of it,” said Alex Aerts, who has previously served on committees for the building he now was enjoying. “Modernization is great. Beautification is better.”

“We are slowly getting away from the old Kearns,” commented his wife, Nancy, considering the changes positive. During the evening Wilson cited numerous SLCO projects in various stages of completion, contributing significantly to the beautification of the area. The results noticed by Nancy Aerts are indicative of “The Kearns Initiative,” a place-based initiative started in 2015 by then-Mayor McAdams.

“Mayor Bush was fantastic to get the word out,” observed Ryan Perry, senior policy advisor for Mayor Wilson, giving credit to Kearns Metro Mayor Kelly Bush for the full attendance at the event. Mayor Bush’s staff advertised the town hall on the Kearns Metro Township’s Facebook page and even provided Facebook Live video footage of the event.

“West-side communities such as Kearns, Magna and West Valley City—they usually are very good at showing up,” credited Perry.

West-side dignitaries show support

Bi-partisan support for the SLCO tour was on display in Kearns. Utah Sen. Minority Whip Karen Mayne
and Utah Rep. Erik Hutchings were in attendance, representing both chambers of the Utah Legislature, and both Democrat and Republican political parties, respectively.

West Jordan (WJ) Mayor Jim Riding and wife Kathe were in attendance, as were WJ council members
Dick Burton and Kayleen Whitelock.

KMT Mayor Kelly Bush was also supported by KMT Councilman Alan Peterson and Kearns Community Council member Paula Larsen.

Magna Metro Township Mayor Dan Peay and wife Shauna were also in attendance.