SALT LAKE CITY — The day after tensions flared between Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams over plans to overhaul homeless services and close the downtown Road Home shelter, both mayors say they're working together to straighten out their differences.
The two mayors met together with House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser Thursday afternoon — a meeting Biskupski said has aligned their goals.
"We're on the same page; we're all still moving forward," Biskupski told the Deseret News on her way out of the Capitol.
McAdams echoed her sentiment but also added there is still some "disagreement" about The Road Home shelter's closure, though they're both working toward the same goal.
With the details of The Road Home's downtown shelter's closure in limbo, along with concerns about future costs, the path forward on homeless solutions became even more complicated with the news that Utah's small-scale Medicaid expansion plan is now in flux, since the required federal waiver won't be considered until after President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
In the same meeting Thursday, McAdams told House and Senate leaders that the closure of The Road Home's 1,100-bed shelter on Rio Grande Street will require more resources because of the Medicaid expansion delay.
A $30 million state match was set aside last year to supplement $70 million in federal funds to provide health treatment for homeless people, but uncertainty about Medicaid approval led McAdams to ask lawmakers to move the $30 million directly into homeless services rather than wait for the fate of the waiver to be decided.
In an interview after the meeting, Neiderhauser called the conversation between the two mayors "productive," while also acknowledging there are issues that still need to be ironed out.
When asked about McAdams' request to allocate Medicaid expansion dollars directly into homeless services, the Senate president said it's a conversation worth having in the Legislature this year, though "we have to balance all of our requests for money."
It's the latest addition of a running list of issues Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County leaders are encountering as they try to revamp the county's homeless model, all while trying to prove to the Utah Legislature that they're making significant progress to earn about $27 million in state funding for their cause.
Tensions between Biskupski and McAdams flared after McAdams voiced several concerns Wednesday regarding the timeline for closing The Road Home shelter and the cost of the $7 million 653 E. Simpson Ave. site — the most controversial of the four sites.
The county mayor also proposed placing a mixed-income affordable housing development on the Simpson Avenue site rather than a homeless resource center.
McAdams said "there's certainly disagreement" between him and Biskupski, mainly over The Road Home, but they're working on ironing out the specifics.
While Biskupski has advocated the downtown shelter close when all four of the new resource centers are fully operational, McAdams says the shelter shouldn't be closed on an "arbitrary date," only when its demand has been reduced to zero.
But Biskupski said she's has "faith" in the county's model and "it's critical that the county be held accountable in this process" by being held to some sort of a deadline to bring services online to at some point close The Road Home's downtown shelter.
"If Mayor McAdams feels like he needs some sort of safety net in case we do not decrease the demand for The Road Home through (programs), then Mayor McAdams needs to find a safety net somewhere else in the county," Biskupski said.
McAdams said he and Biskupski didn't hash out "specifics" on what a deadline might be, but they did agree "that's something we want to work on."
"It's healthy that we're sitting down and talking through it," McAdams said. "We all agree that we want to see the Rio Grande facility close, but we also all agree that it can't be done without respect to reduction in demand."
As for the use of the four sites and McAdams' suggestion that the controversial Sugar House site could be used for affordable housing rather than a resource center, McAdams said the county will leave that decision up to the city.
"Ultimately its a city decision. The county will respectfully, at the request of the city, stay on the sidelines as to (how) sites are used," he said.
The county mayor said he meant for his proposal to be simply be an idea for city leaders to consider as a way to respond to the criticism over the Sugar House site while also "moving forward constructively."
McAdams added, however, that he and Biskupski did not discuss at length his alternative proposal for the Sugar House site and he's uncertain whether Biskupski has any interest in entertaining that idea.
When asked about the county mayor's idea Thursday, Biskupski said "the majority of the council and I are standing firm on the decision to move forward with the four sites that we have selected."
McAdams suggestion followed another proposal made by City Councilwoman Lisa Adams, who floated the idea of cutting the Simpson Avenue site from the list and reducing the sites from four to three — an idea that was met with opposition from most of her fellow council members.
Adams said "it's not too late to change gears" and consider McAdams' idea, though adding that a fourth site for a resource center may still be needed elsewhere — to keep each facility's bed counts below 150 to allay concerns of other council members. She said she'd hope that another city might step in.
City Council Chairman Stan Penfold said he would want to see details about McAdams' proposal and doesn't want to be "closed off" to ideas, but added that the council was "deliberate" in its selection process and his sense is that the majority would not want to remove a fourth center.
City Councilman Derek Kitchen said he wants to be sensitive to the concerns around the Simpson Avenue site, but added that he's also getting complaints about the other three sites — and if the city buckles on one site, others could fall through, too.
"The reality is, if Sugar House is pulled, everything could fall apart," Kitchen said.
City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, who's been an opponent of the Simpson Avenue site, said she won't support a shift from four to three sites because she believes the loss of a fourth site will mean the loss of a facility for single women. But that doesn't mean an alternative to Simpson Avenue shouldn't be considered, she said.4 comments on this story
"There are other sites that adequately fulfill the success criteria and should be considered if Simpson is not developed as a resource center," Mendenhall wrote in a Facebook post Thursday.
Penfold said he hopes all city leaders will keep open minds through this process.
"These are long-term decisions. We're talking about decades long, 30-year commitments," Penfold said. "It's important for us to do whatever we can to try to get this right. And that's considering everything."
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche