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Trails, parks expansions highlighted in County Mayor Wilson's address

Feb 29, 2024 11:30AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson gives her State of the County address. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

"It feels so good," Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said, kicking off her 2024 State of the County address on Jan 23. Speaking to county officials, mayors and city council members at the South Jordan Recreation Center, Wilson touted the county's resilient economic rebound from COVID-19 and its benchmark-setting quality of life investments.

Recalling the Height of the Pandemic 

Wilson recounted the uncertainty she felt both "personally and as your county mayor" during the height of the pandemic in 2020. "I knew our county had a future," Wilson said, "but at our lowest moments that future seemed very uncertain." The mayor said the anxiety was fueled by isolation and conspicuously empty offices and streets.  

"Thankfully, largely due to the resolve of this community, Salt Lake County has bounced back," Wilson continued. She spotlighted its position as home to "one of the most robust economies in the country." Further, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation at 2.6%, the mayor enthused that "our future is bright."

Bond Rating Signals Fiscal Discipline

In addition to the job market, Wilson pointed to Salt Lake County's AAA bond rating as evidence of sound fiscal health and discipline. She explained the significance: "It actually allows us to keep taxes down while delivering service to our residents and that is so important." With fewer than 50 counties across the over 3,000 nationwide able to claim AAA grades from all major ratings agencies, she argued the rating signals the quality and reliability of Salt Lake County's long-term finances.

Recreational Access: From Courts to Trails 

A central point in Wilson's address was the county's focus on quality of life investments beyond economic factors. She positively highlighted Salt Lake County recreational amenities, programming and partnerships. Specifically, the mayor drew attention to existing and expanding county trails, parks, and recreation centers that have developed under her administration.

As one major milestone, the mayor highlighted that this summer kids ages 5 to 18 will gain free access to all county recreation centers. Wilson shared that when she had proposed the idea, approval first had to come from the Salt Lake County Council who control the county's purse strings. 

One major highlight Wilson said is the upcoming $9 million expansion of the South Jordan Recreation Center. She shared that construction will begin mid-year on additions including seven new lap lanes for the pool, spectator bleachers and a timing system. Wilson projects finishing construction within about one year. She argued that by alleviating congestion, the upgrades will better accommodate community swim clubs, teams and seniors looking to exercise through swimming laps. The mayor praised the expansion as an evolution that will cement the South Jordan facility's status as a go-to aquatic and recreational hub for Salt Lake County's south side.

Bingham Creek Regional Park Leads Expansions 

In addition to programming, Wilson touted park infrastructure expansions during her tenure. She said Salt Lake County had just opened the initial phase of Bingham Creek Regional Park. According to Wilson, it is now the county's largest park spanning 45 acres. Although once home to a gravel pit, the first section already includes playing fields, playgrounds, biking trails, a pavilion and more. She also teased that "several additional exciting projects" are coming, cementing Bingham Creek's status as the county's premier destination park.

Trail Networks Expand Access 

Wilson also trumpeted the county's efforts on trails, celebrating the August opening of the "game changing" Butterfield Canyon trail system. Made possible by key partnerships with Rio Tinto and the Bureau of Land Management, she said the first phase introduced 15 miles of trails in previously hard-to-reach southwest Salt Lake County. 

Beyond Butterfield Canyon, the mayor said her administration remains "dedicated to enhancing accessible, equitable, sustainable and high-quality trails and open space for all our county residents." She boasted that the county continues to link cities through an urban trail network that community members love to walk, bike and run.

Homelessness and Housing Affordability Pose Challenges

Shifting focus to issues facing Salt Lake County, Wilson acknowledged "real challenges" like inflation, college affordability and the public safety impact of police department restructuring. However, she spent the most time discussing two intractable problems: homelessness and housing affordability.

Salt Lake County has partnered with Sandy City to open a new supportive housing facility for 165 formerly homeless people with medical vulnerabilities. Wilson stated this facility moves residents from homeless resource centers into supportive housing with health-related services. The mayor highlighted this project as an example of the county joining forces with cities to expand capacity for housing insecure populations.

Besides shelter space, Wilson called for addressing root causes like housing supply. To that end, she said the county has expanded its Housing Trust Fund by $25 million. According to Wilson, that infusion has facilitated over 1,500 units across 17 affordable housing projects approved in under a year.  

Confidence in Overcoming Challenges  

While acknowledging various challenges facing the county, Wilson conveyed confidence in Salt Lake County's capability to adapt and overcome crises based on its track record. She cited the county's ability to pivot and respond during recent years of difficulties like extreme weather events and budget constraints.

To illustrate the county's aspirations, Wilson shared the inspirational story of a local high school basketball player named Jada who persevered through financial limitations to make her school's team. According to the mayor, Jada's determined pursuit of her goals symbolizes what the administration hopes to facilitate for youth through county programs and resources. λ