There was a lot to like about the year just past. The stop-start economy sputtered upward slightly, as evidenced by unemployment hitting a four-year low, the housing market picking up steam and several businesses going ahead with plans for expansion. But 2012 was also a year in which many problems came home to roost. The Tooele County School Board raised taxes, and both Tooele County — where dozens of workers were laid off — and the North Tooele County Fire District proposed increases of their own.
Our wish list for 2013 looks backward and forward:
• More local watchdogs
Too often, the public is caught unawares when government does things like giving a schools superintendent a fat pay raise just before raising taxes, or building a $25 million prison on ridiculously rosy projections of income generated by federal prisoners. Even those that turned up a recent truth in taxation meetings often evinced more passion than understanding of the issues under debate. We need fewer citizens railing against the far-off federal government and more scrutinizing the actions of local government — where there’s waste aplenty and more opportunities to make a difference.
• Elected leaders with financial smarts
Going hand-in-hand with the wish above, we need more people running for office who understand numbers and money. Budgeting, municipal finance and economic development shouldn’t be the purview of some priestly class of Rasputin-like advisors. Too often, though, our elected leaders walk away from these functions because they don’t have the interest or wherewithal to deal with them. We need a shift change toward leaders who feel comfortable reading spreadsheets and managing money.
• Don’t give up on downtown
Only a few years ago, it felt as if Tooele’s downtown was on the verge of a long-awaited resurgence. That momentum has been lost now. In fact, looking back over the 25-year life of the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, many people are questioning what good the RDA did downtown. It’s time for Tooele City to get creative about stimulating downtown redevelopment. People in growing southeast and southwest sections of town deserve to be able to shop for goods and services without driving all the way to the northern edge of the city.
• More focus on what matters in schools
This was the year school administrators cracked down on hemlines and cut out the Grantsville First Grade Circus. It was also the year the school board raised taxes to pay for the already-constructed Community Learning Center. Lost in all that extracurricular hubbub was some bad academic news: The majority of schools in the Tooele County School District scored below average on the state’s new Utah Comprehensive Accountability System. And district high school students are less prepared for college than their peers statewide or across the nation, as illustrated by ACT scores and advance placement class pass rates. Given the high salaries commanded by many high school principals these days, we think we deserve better academic results.
• Greater civility
The firing of executive director Debbie Winn was a rancorous affair that polarized not only members of the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce but the larger community. Then there was the Stansbury High School band brouhaha, which put neighbors at each other throats, the snarling tenor of recent truth in taxation meetings, and the line-in-the-sand battle shaping up between Tooele City and Tooele County over the county’s bid to purchase a downtown building to expand its relief services operation. Criticism is healthy, and sticking to your principals can be commendable, but we should always be mindful of the idea that respectful dialogue and compromise will take us much farther together than shrill rhetoric and hardheadedness.
Here’s hoping 2013 is a prosperous year for you and your family.