SALT LAKE CITY — A thick haze filled the air over the valley as Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon gave his final State of the County address Tuesday.
"Our future must include clean, healthy air to breathe and water to drink; and clean, safe land to live on," Corroon said from the council chambers in the county government complex. "The smoggy air we see and breathe during inversions should become a thing of the past."
He referred to public service as "a very high calling," and his comments about air quality are a conspicuous example of the bureaucratically complex arena county government is a part of: Salt Lake County is the state's most populous county, with more than 1 million residents; includes the state's capital city, with its own strong and complex city government; and is a focal point of some of the most visible state government operations and initiatives — including the oversight of air quality.
Corroon, a Democrat, took office in January 2008 and has made it clear for some time he did not plan to seek re-election this year. Already there are three Republicans and two Democrats who have announced their candidacy for the office he holds.
In the meantime, Corroon is anxious to divert the "lame duck" label, saying his remaining days in office will be a "355-day sprint to the finish line and a smooth hand-off to the next mayor."
His speech outlined county accomplishments during his two terms, including the "greening" of county government with environmentally friendly LEED-certified facilities, curbside recycling, the creation of the Unified Police Department, new recreation and seniors centers and libraries, updated master plans for unincorporated communities and major changes in the administration of mental health services.
For the county's less urban areas, "We have embarked on a series of transportation studies within Millcreek and Big and Little Cottonwood canyons," he said. "We will keep our momentum going to increase quality of life and green programs."
Corroon said sales tax revenues are up and 14,000 new jobs were created in the county during the past year — a turnaround after challenging economic times that have depleted many county financial reserves and county employees have seen cuts in pay and benefits.
"Forbes Magazine ranks Salt Lake sixth best performing metropolitan area, up from 49th a year ago," Corroon said. "Simply put: the state of Salt Lake County is strong."
Corroon made a comparison between the economy and his recent hip injury, broken while playing ice hockey in October. "My repair is recovering as our economy is recovering: slow but sure."
"You know I get a lot of credit for what this county government does," he said, "But I stand on the strong shoulders of our thousands of employees."
County government itself will continue to change itself during Corroon's final year. The County Council decided to move all budgeting functions to the mayor's office and away from County Auditor Gregory P. Hawkins, who then sued the county to block the move. That lawsuit is now in play in District Court.
Corroon said "growth" has been Salt Lake County's catchword for more than 150 years.
"The economy needs to grow in order for us to provide jobs, education, transportation, housing, recreation and infrastructure for a population that is expected to double over the next half-century," he said. "With population growth comes both economic growth and public safety concerns. That's why over the next year we will be working to better coordinate our different 911 systems and prepare for the "big one," referencing the valley's potential for a major earthquake.
He called his remarks "Cliffs Notes" for county accomplishments and expressed his gratitude for the opportunities of public office. "Being mayor is not just a job but a trust that has been given me."
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