Frugality and efficiency are the two top words used by Tooele County Commissioners while describing their goals for 2013.
“I believe that we’ve been spoiled for many years with the huge sums of mitigation monies that were pouring into County coffers each year,” said Shawn Milne, Tooele County’s newest commissioner. “I think we spent money like we were on a shopping spree. Now that these revenue streams are drying up, the most realistic option is to alter how we spend our money.”
The county commissioners approved the 2013 budget in December 2012. The budget calls for an anticipated 82 percent hike in the portion of property tax that supports county government.
The actual amount of that tax increase won’t be finalized until August. Commissioner Bruce Clegg has vowed to do his best to reduce expenses or find alternative revenue streams to hold the line on any tax increase.
“Tooele County has not increased property taxes in over 20 years,” he said. “Nobody wants to see this 20 plus year stretch come to an end by raising property taxes, including myself. I will do everything in my power to reduce the amount or lower the percentage of the tax increase before it’s implemented in August.”
Milne wants to open a dialogue about how the county delivers services and look for new efficiencies. “We should reduce government where practical,” he said. “ Just because the government has been providing a service for a long time doesn’t mean that it should continue.”
County-funded recreation opportunities may be suited for a private business model, and relief services may be another opportunity for churches and non-profits to fulfill, according to Milne. The fiscal health of the county is also high on Commissioner Jerry Hurst’s goals for 2013. “We need to continue the scrutinizing of every departments budget that we started last year,” he said “As a county we need to be frugal and look for more ways to save money so we can get back to the point where we are building the county’s reserve fund.”
The commissioners desire to build the revenue side of Deseret Peak Complex’s 2013 budget. Hurst wants to attract more profitable events there to help the bottom line.
Milne includes Deseret Peak Complex on his list of county attractions to promote for local tourism. He wants to lure people from the Salt Lake metro area to Tooele County to capture some of their recreation dollars.
“It’s past due time for us to reverse the trend of only spending our retail dollars out in Salt Lake and forgetting to invite them to come spend their tourism dollars out here,” he said.
Milne lists Miller Motorsports Park, camping in Settlement Canyon and South Willow Canyon, the Benson Gristmill, the county’s natural outdoor open space, and annual events such as the Wendover Air Show, as great tourist attractions the county should promote.
Another annual event the commissioners want to promote is Wild Horse and Heritage Days, which premiered in 2012 at Deseret Peak Complex. Hurst wants to develop it into a revenue generating marquee event that will put Tooele County on the map as a tourism destination.
Wild Horse and Heritage Days is also on Milne’s list of tourist attractions. The three day event includes ranch rodeo contests, a horseshoe competition, a barbecue cooking contest, equestrian events, a cowboy poetry contest, an antique tractor pull, and entertainment.
According to state code, the commissioners serve as the county’s legislative body and executive authority. To more effectively adminstrate, the commissioners divide the county government’s different functions amongst themselves. They also assign each other as the primary point of contact for county departments. Clegg serves as the point of contact for the departments of aging and adult services; courts; human resources; building planning services departments; and the county assessor’s office. Hurst is the point of contact for the departments of building maintenance; county extension; information technology; public health and roads; and the county attorney’s office. Milne is the point of contact for the departments of relief services; public safety; food bank and economic development; and the offices of the county auditor, clerk, surveyor, and treasurer.
Each commissioner has goals for the departments they represent. Clegg’s goals include maintaining a high level of care for Tooele County seniors, even in the face of looming federal program cuts.
“We are the only county in the state without a waiting list for Meals on Wheels and home health care,” Clegg said. “It is my personal goal to keep this high standard.” Clegg also plans to keep the Mosquito Abatement Board operating within its current budget.
The Weed Board will continue to control invasive species of plants that are capable of devastating the county’s economic future, according to Clegg.
Hurst will continue to work with Congress to pass legislation for reopening roads in the Deep Creek Mountains, and to secure grants for flood mitigation and cleanup of public lands. He also wants to build new trailheads for the county trail system that are already funded through secured grants.
Hurst will work with the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert in 2013 to allow EnergySolutions to safely dispose of waste streams the company is licensed to accept.
A new shooting range may also be on Hurst’s list for 2013 — if he can get the Federal Bureau of Investigation to fund it.
For Milne, economic development, to build job opportunities for Tooele County residents and to diversify the county’s revenue stream, is a priority in 2013.
“Tooele County needs to focus a collective effort on getting recognized for what we are — the latest up and coming county for growth, build-out, and economic development,” he said. “Among the types of industries that we are most likely suited for are warehousing and logistics, healthcare services for our growing population, production and manufacturing, and retail.”
Milne also hopes to give county employees a cost of living adjustment in the 2014 budget.
If the commissioners have their way, 2013 will be the year that the county and its municipalities unify to address areas of common concern.
Hurst wants to strengthen ties with municipalities and meet regularly with them to discuss issues. Milne, who previously served on the Tooele City Council, also sees the importance of unity.
“Tooele County needs to coalesce as a group of individual cities and towns, along with County government,” he said. “Tooele County must lead the conversation with area and regional bodies, like UDOT and UTA, on matters that affect multiple jurisdictions. We need to find our common issues and be willing to speak with one voice on those matters where we agree and petition our state representatives accordingly.”
Milne offers a summary of the commissioner’s goals for 2013.
“Essentially, what all of our goals should be is to promote what we already offer and bolster our strengths,” he said. “We need to run leaner and more efficiently everywhere we can and to improve upon our weaknesses.”