Gems of opportunity rose out of last year’s financial darkness for Tooele County and the county’s future is bright.
That’s how Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne summarized the state of the county as it heads into the new year.
Milne, along with Commissioners Jerry Hurst and Bruce Clegg, each took five minutes at last week’s county commission meeting to review the past year and take a look ahead to 2014.
“Time and again our communities in Tooele County have proven that we have the resolve, the moxie, and the right attitude to overcome our trials,” said Milne.
In the last 18 months, county government has trimmed its staff by 25 percent, causing it to adapt, according to the commissioner.
“Tooele County has also grown leaner and more efficient,” he said. “Every department is doing more with less. But just as importantly, we’re doing so together.”
Hurst emphasized that Deseret Peak Complex did not close, but it adapted by changing the way it operates.
“We contracted out a lot of things like the BMX track, the soccer fields and the softball fields and it worked,” said Hurst. “It worked well.”
With county funds being tight, the park and recreation department found grant money to help with trailheads at Bates Canyon, Hickman Canyon, and the Mormon Trail, said Hurst.
Grant money will also be used to build the Prospector Trail, which is a multi-county ATV path that winds its way through Utah, Tooele, and Juab counties.
While the county received negative publicity last year over a decision to churn up a portion of the deteriorated, temporary hard surface that covers Faust Road, not all roads in Tooele County were converted into gravel, according to Hurst.
“The only revenue for roads is the county’s share of fuel tax,” said Hurst. “And that doesn’t go to far.”
To allow for additional roadwork the county found grants to fund projects, according to Hurst.
A grant is funding the rebuild of two miles of the Mormon Trail road that will be finished this spring. The county also convinced the Utah Department of Transportation to fund the realignment of Erda Way and state Route 138. Another grant paid for improvements to a railroad crossing on Droubay Road.
In 2014 mitigation fees from Rocky Mountain Power will be used to start work on the South Mountain Road that connects state Route 36 with the Mormon Trail Road.
The county also applied for a grant that will be used to extend Village Boulevard in Stansbury Park to state Route 138.
New ways were also found to fund upkeep of Tooele’s recreational canyons to be implemented in 2014. Settlement Canyon already is gated and collected $55,000 in 2013, said Hurst.
Ophir and Middle Canyons will not be gated. Instead campsites will be numbered and campers will place their fee payment in a drop box, Hurst added.
Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg spoke about drought and catastrophic wild fires that have plagued Tooele County.
“The north end of Skull Valley has been home to the largest fire burns in the state,” he said.
According to him, dry weather and invasive weeds contribute to this phenomenon. “When cheat grass dries out, it provides fuel for fires that burns so hot it can’t be put out,” he said.
Clegg’s solution is reseeding burned areas with native grasses and maintaining vigilance against new invading weed species.
Commissioners also discussed taking care of the county’s elderly, updating the economic development plan for the county, streamlining services through technology, fighting the designation of the Sage Grouse as an endangered species, and continuing work on the mid-valley highway as priorities for 2014.
Increased transparency was one of the positive outcomes of last year’s troubles, said Milne. He cited the five town hall meetings the commissioners held in 2013 to engage the public in a discussion about county finances and the need for a property tax increase.
The county also organized two new citizen committees to oversee county financial policies and decisions in 2013, and the county’s website was given an ‘A+” rating by a national organization that rates government websites for open access, said the commissioners.
Milne pledged that the town hall meeting format will be used this fall before commissioners formally adopt a new municipal services tax on unincorporated areas of the county.
“This format [town hall meetings] will thoroughly and openly vet the findings of the external contractor, who is tasked with assessing our unincorporated costs,” he said, “and will allow everyone who chooses, to be a part of the process.”
Milne closed his remarks with a promise for more transparency.
“So as we begin 2014, we will continue striving for greater transparency and citizen involvement,” he said. “The solution to recent challenges is to seek more participation from those interested in serving their community.”