I will advance a consolidated public works system for the residents of our county. What does that mean for the average resident? … It means less confusion for the citizen trying to find the right office to contact. It means staff working across floors, office buildings and zip codes to achieve a common goal. —SL County Mayor Ben McAdams
SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams focused his State of the County remarks Tuesday on efficiently delineating between the county’s responsibility to incorporated and unincorporated areas, garnering bipartisan cooperation and operating under a fiscally responsible budget.
McAdams, who took over as county mayor in early January, said the county needs to do a better job of helping residents — in both urban and rural areas — to understand where to turn for the county’s assistance.
“I will advance a consolidated public works system for the residents of our county," McAdams said. “What does that mean for the average resident? … It means less confusion for the citizen trying to find the right office to contact. It means staff working across floors, office buildings and zip codes to achieve a common goal.”
McAdams said county residents become frustrated when confusion over the jurisdiction of various county services leads to inefficiencies.
“What’s crazy is for a snow plow driver to plow a stretch of road, then literally lift up the plow blade at a stretch of road in someone else’s jurisdiction, and continue plowing on the other side.”
McAdams recently consolidated the rebranded Public Works and Regional Development department. The newly appointed head of that department, Russ Wall, said he agrees with the mayor’s trimming down processes, but said change will be difficult.
“Anytime you start build efficiency, there’s pushback,” Wall said. “It’s just human nature. That’s the biggest issue we’re going to face in trying to change things — a big organization like this doesn’t want to change.”
McAdams, a Democrat, also criticized partisanship, saying it gets in the way of everyday problem solving.
“A pothole (on a) street is not a Republican pothole or a Democratic pothole. It’s just something that needs to be fixed,” McAdams said. “I was elected into office with broad bipartisan support, and I intend to keep it that way.”
County Councilman Michael Jensen said the local economy will suffer if the county fails to maintain that tone of cooperation.
“We do have some economic growth now, it’s not huge amounts but at least it’s a positive movement,” Jensen said. “Our outlook looks pretty good. We just need to make sure we don’t lose focus and go willy nilly crazy spending. It’s not (McAdams’) personality to do that and it’s not the council’s personality collectively to do that."
McAdams did say that the recession caused residents' taxes to increase, but vowed that his administration will be as fiscally conservative as possible.
“The struggling economy of the past few years forced tough choices by county government leaders. After years of cutbacks, a tax increase was reluctantly adopted in December,” McAdams said. “My plan envisions a county government that is better, not bigger: one that is lean collaborative, affordable and accountable to the people who pay the bills.”
Jensen sounded cautiously optimistic that the County Council will be able to push through most of this year’s agenda without breaking the bank.
“The agenda is worthwhile, but the devil’s always in the details about some of these new projects,” Jensen said. “We’re supportive in general, but there’s a budget reality. So it’s that balancing act of being able to provide the best services but not killing our residents with taxes.”
McAdams said he would like to see an expansion of several after-school programs throughout the state. He’s also worried about children's long-term health and safety in Salt Lake County in light of the recent inversions and subsequent decreases in air quality.
“Today, our kids are sometimes kept inside because our air isn’t safe to breathe," McAdams said. “Our schools are expected to prepare our children to compete in a global economy with fewer and fewer resources to do so.”
McAdams also announced that the county plans to purchase land in Magna for a new regional park, but did not give out additional details about its anticipated size or function.
“We want Salt Lake County residents to be healthy,” McAdams said. “Spaces to walk, bike, run, and play help residents stay active and feel better.”