If local residents want to be better informed about how Utah County Commission decisions may affect them, they should turn off the television long enough to read a newspaper or attend a commission meeting, says Commission Chairman Malcolm Beck.
Beck made the comment in response to a United Way human needs study in which 56 percent of those surveyed said they want the County Commission to keep the public better informed about the future impact of commission decisions.Beck said he generally feels good about how the media cover the commission. But most county residents don't read the newspapers or attend commission meetings.
"They're too busy watching television," he said. "I agree we don't give people enough information, but I don't know how else to do it."
The only people who attend public meetings, Beck said, are those with a complaint.
To gather information for the $27,000 United Way assessment, telephone interviews were conducted with 400 county residents at large, and interviews were conducted with 100 individuals who use some form of human services. In addition, 25 community leaders were interviewed and several focus groups comprising human service providers were consulted.
Two-thirds of those interviewed said they like the way county commissioners are trying to keep the budget down so taxes won't have to be raised.
But the survey population was split evenly on the commission's conservative fiscal approach in relation to human service needs. Half those questioned said that approach may create major health and human services problems and that if the commission doesn't deal with problems now, they could become more serious in the future.
Though the current commission is fiscally conservative, Beck said, he and fellow commissioners Gary Anderson and Brent Morris are attempting to meet public needs with available resources.
"I think we've been responsive to tax problems in the state and in Utah County," he said. "I don't think problems are necessarily solved by raising taxes."
Beck said the commission will continue to turn down some public programs, but that it welcomes good programs that make good use of public funds.
According to the needs assessment study, community residents feel that public officials have a responsibility to meet their needs.
Beck agrees, but said elected officials must separate public needs from public wants.
"I think we have to meet the public's needs," he said. "I don't think we can be elected by them and then say, `We can't do anything for you.' "
In addressing human service needs, people responding to the United Way survey said officials need to be more aware of people's problems and should "get out from behind their desks more often to visit with individuals."
County residents who think commissioners spend too much time behind their desks are unaware of what commissioners do, Beck said. "I think all of us are quite active," he said.
Beck said the county has commissioned a study on ways to better coordinate human service programs, improve efficiency and stretch tax dollars. "A lot of things can be improved on. Timp Mental Health has opened our eyes to a lot of things."
Fifty-nine percent of the study's respondents feel the commission's decisions generally correspond to the will of the electorate. The same percentage support construction of the new Utah County Regional Government Center.