County council or city council—who you gonna call?Nov 09, 2023 02:42PM ● By Ella Joy Olsen
You see a pothole that needs to be fixed or wonder who to ask about getting a couple new pickle ball courts installed at the park closest to you. Who you gonna call?
“The government body closest to the people governs the best,” said Aimee Winder Newton, District 3 county councilmember and chair of the Salt Lake County Council. “Which means services that impact individuals on a day-to-day basis are most often handled closer to the public, so at a city level.”
This means with any at-hand issue, start at the city level, and if it is better handled via a county or state agency, the city representative can get you headed in the right direction.
Generally speaking, what does your city do?
Cities and townships vary a bit from town to town, but most around-town roads are city-owned and maintained. Cities are in charge of garbage and snow removal. They are in charge of public safety including police, fire and ambulance services. Also, they grant zoning permits and enforcement of zoning laws, basically services that affect individuals on a day-to-day basis.
So, that pothole on your morning commute? That will likely be repaired by your city.
Cities are also concerned with creating economic development and a tax base within city limits, as sales tax revenue is how amenities and services are funded.
So, then what is Salt Lake County in charge of?
Issues that have a larger reach, across a broader population and region, are often handled by the county. Here are a few examples:
Health: the Salt Lake County Health Department is over a range of health services from expected things like screenings and immunizations, to more obscure services like noise pollution, noxious weed control, tobacco prevention, bee inspection and water quality.
Human Services: This is a broad category including adult and aging services (senior centers), youth services and behavioral health services like mental health and substance use disorders. It also includes criminal justice. “Here’s an interesting fact,” Winder Newton said. “Over 75% of the county general fund budget goes toward criminal justice, which includes behavioral health, jails and prosecution.”
Parks and Recreation: Salt Lake County operates and maintains parks, trails and open space, golf courses, recreation centers, swimming pools, ice centers, and Wheeler Historic Farm. There are 19 county-run recreation centers with a variety of activity options available.
Culture and Arts: the county supports culture and arts with venues such as Abravanel Hall, Mountain American Expo Center and the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center. “The county loves tourists who visit, spend money, then leave,” Winder Newton said. “Tourists don’t require services and education, which is great for our budget.”
Services in the muddy middle
Many issues are touched by both cities and the county, which is why a resident would reach out to their closest representative first. And while there are too many to list, here are a couple of muddy middle examples.
Parks: “When you consider who is in charge of a park, that’s a tough one,” Winder Newton said. “If it’s a regional park intended to draw visitors from a large geographical region, like Sugar House Park, it may be jointly run by the city and county. The county alone has a few larger parks like Dimple Dell, and smaller more local parks are run by individual cities.”
Libraries: the county has a countywide system, but both Murray City and Salt Lake City have their own library systems.
Landfill: the city and the county co-own a landfill.
Flood control: for example, the Jordan River is owned by several different entities and crosses through many cities, therefore flooding issues may be handled with a coordinated response.
Unsheltered population: individual cities and the county work to coordinate efforts to help this population, providing behavioral health services and a variety of housing options.
Now, a little more about your Salt Lake County Council
The Salt Lake County Council consists of nine members; three “at-large” members who are elected to represent the entire county for six-year terms, and six “district” members who are elected to represent geographical districts within Salt Lake County for four-year terms. Basically every voter in the county will have the opportunity to vote for four council members: the three “at-large” representatives and one from their specific geographical district.
County representatives do declare their political affiliation while running for office. They run on a party platform, as do state representatives, like Gov. Spencer Cox. In contrast, city representatives are nonpartisan.
The council is the legislative branch of county government passing budgets and setting policy direction. They work with County Mayor Jenny Wilson, who is the head of the executive branch.
When to make public comment to the County Council?
The County Council meets (nearly) every Tuesday afternoon, except when there is a holiday on Monday or Friday, because the agenda needs to be posted 24 hours in advance. The start time depends on how meaty the agenda, but they aim to end the meeting about 5 p.m., allowing representatives to visit city council meetings within their districts, many which occur Tuesday evenings.
Public comment is taken at the beginning of each county council meeting and will be received either in person, online or via email.
The official agenda for each meeting, which will include start time and how to make comment, can be found at: slco.org/council. λ