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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Salt Lake County mayoral candidates, Ben McAdams, left, and Mark Crockett debate Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, at the KCPW radio studios.
What we really need is for each level of government to focus on things only it can do. Let's not have the county pretend it's more than it is.

SALT LAKE CITY — Candidates in the Salt Lake County mayoral race sat down in a mostly amicable debate Wednesday, not delving deep on many issues but butting heads over government efficiency and county responsibilities.

Crockett came out swinging against the plan his opponent unveiled last week regarding increasing efficiency and economy in county government. The Republican accused McAdams of not understanding "how the county works" by citing McAdams' example of city and county snowplows cleaning opposite sides of 800 East.

"It doesn't matter whether you want to try to force all the cities to come together over the years, it actually won't save more than maybe a couple hundred bucks because no matter what route you construct, you have two different plows that plow the same street at some point in time," he said. 

Instead, Crockett suggested the county look into snowplow maintenance and route mapping to save money.

McAdams maintained his stance that city and county cooperation is necessary in streamlining government, asking voters to judge his record and his temperament as evidence he can facilitate necessary partnerships. 

The debate was featured on KCPW radio's Wednesday evening program and included call-in questions from the public.

Crockett was challenged by a caller about the county's role in providing arts and recreation. Crockett said individual cities and the state can help Salt Lake County implement those programs, but the county must focus on human services such as jails, senior programs and rehab programs, which are its sole responsibility.

McAdams said he recognized Salt Lake County's obligation to provide human services, but argued county cooperation with state and city initiatives will enhance arts and recreation programs, especially as it relates to education.

"The county has only a small voice in that, but I will do what I can that's within my control for the benefit of the public education system," McAdams said. 

Following the debate, Crockett reaffirmed his position that the county mayor should maintain focus on county responsibilities. 

"What we really need is for each level of government to focus on things only it can do," Crockett said. "Let's not have the county pretend it's more than it is."

On questions of bond spending, both candidates said bonds should be carefully prioritized.

McAdams called bonds an investment in the county's future, using voter-approved bonds to support TRAX and Frontrunner construction as examples of successful uses. 

Crockett said he believes government leaders should work to better educate the public on long-term bond forecasts before pursuing new endeavors, citing current Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon's nearly $700 million in bond proposals.

Regarding Salt Lake County's contributions to the Utah Performing Arts Center, McAdams said he supports the expense, so long as other organizations are cared for.

"I believe it's important for the county, as really the coordinator of arts in our region, to make sure the other important organizations like the symphony, the ballet and the Rose Wagner, can survive and thrive in this new environment," McAdams said.

Crockett said he "would love to believe in it," but said he worries about the impact it will have, saying the studies conducted in the proposal process painted Salt Lake City too much like Denver.

"When the business plan and the agreement with the county already states that it will cause a $1.5 million hole in the Capitol Theatre every year, that will have to be filled with revenues from the new theater, it makes me concerned about what it's going to do to the arts community downtown," he said.

In response to a listener question about improving the Salt Lake County jail, the candidates pushed rehabilitation programs as an alternative to incarceration.

The temperature climbed when Crockett recounted his role in the county council's initiatives with the Drug Offender Reform Act pilot program, which piloted alternatives to jail time for misdemeanor drug offenders.

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Crockett accused the Salt Lake County mayor and sheriff of dropping the ball after his departure in not continuing aggressively with those programs, while McAdams said his opponent failed to build necessary coalitions to support the DORA initiative.

Both parties agreed on accommodating bicycle travel, improving air quality, avoiding tax increases and representing minority groups.

The candidates will face off again Saturday at 11 a.m. in a debate hosted by St Marks Episcopal Cathedral, located at 231 E. 100 South. A debate will also be presented Sunday morning at 9 a.m. on KSL 5 Sunday Edition.

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @McKenzieRomero