Before it was perhaps a little extra time standing in line to pay a bill at the Tooele County Building. But if you love to recreate in the county’s great outdoors, things may have just got personal.
From last fall until a week ago, the county commissioners had laid off 50 employees and reduced hours for 28 workers. They also either eliminated or restructured over a dozen county departments — all in effort to cut costs as a result of well-known budget shortages.
Departments that have been terminated or absorbed include economic development, emergency management, the bookmobile, and the hazardous material response team. Departments that have had layoffs include the sheriff’s department, information technology, justice court, Deseret Peak Complex, and elected county offices for assessor, attorney, auditor, recorder, surveyor and treasurer.
On top of that, the commissioners have cut their own annual salaries by $5,000 each.
Such reductions and realignments have undoubtedly affected the county’s ability to deliver services to the public. Until more time has passed, however, the degree to which citizens have felt these cuts remains generally unknown. Yet, perhaps other than the loss of the highly visible bookmobile, it could be argued that citizens are hard pressed to notice significant service delivery changes with most if not all of the impacted departments.
But last Tuesday may change all that.
On that day the commissioners further reduced the county’s workforce by 29 employees. This time the cuts were applied to departments for parks and recreation, and building maintenance. And those cuts were deep. All that remains of staff for both departments is Mark McKendrick, parks and recreation director, and Dal Shields, building maintenance director.
With their employees gone, the job ahead for both men is difficult and uncertain. The commissioners have tasked them to develop a plan that merges their respective departments, and to keep expenses to a minimum. McKendrick and Shields have the next 30 days to create this plan. It is probable its design will be rooted in austerity, and this time, citizens won’t be able to ignore its effects.
That is because what’s on the line are some of Tooele County’s most treasured places of recreation and leisure, which are enjoyed by thousands annually. Employees who run Deseret Peak Complex’s outdoor pool and numerous venues, maintain the Benson Gristmill’s charming and tidy feel, clean and protect popular and well-used canyons such as Middle, Settlement, Ophir and others, and care for the county’s popular trails, are no longer there to do so. Unless McKendrick, Shields and the commissioners can devise a workable and affordable solution, the availability and even fate of those places are regrettably in question.
Can you imagine seeing a big lock on the gate at Deseret Peak Complex’s outdoor pool this summer, or a “Closed Until Further Notice” sign on the Benson Gristmill? Without routine and thorough cleaning of nearby canyons, can you imagine how quickly they will fill with trash and illegal dumping?
If a solution cannot be reached, then it’s hoped the commission will allow organized community volunteers to help keep these assets available and viable for use. If a solution cannot be reached, we’re going to find out what we’re made of, where our values truly reside, and how willing we are to contribute as a community when the chips are down. Way down.