City Council Discusses Future of Equestrian ParkJun 09, 2016 10:30AM ● By Jana Klopsch
By Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton
The Salt Lake County Equestrian Park may soon see some changes, thanks to the hard work of equestrian park users and the county’s parks department.
During the county budget process last fall, I learned that the equestrian park operates with a roughly $1 million dollar subsidy from county taxpayers. I also learned of a litany of deferred maintenance items that hadn’t been funded and were causing problems for park users, including lack of adequate restrooms, and drainage problems near horse stalls.
I started asking questions about whether this was the best use of taxpayer dollars and offered optimal value to our community. County voters have demonstrated that they value open space in our communities—a sentiment I share. Preserving places for our residents to enjoy outdoor activities is good for the physical and emotional health of those who call Salt Lake County home.
The county subsidizes parks, on average, $5,000 per acre. The equestrian center on the other hand, is subsidized at about $7,500 per acre. Though the equestrian center generates some revenue (the operating budget is roughly $2 million, with about $1 million in revenue), it still is a significant cost to taxpayers each year to maintain.
As I’ve worked to learn more in recent months, I’ve been extremely impressed with the users of the equestrian park who have been helpful in outlining the value the park provides to the community, as well as working to identify ways we can improve the park and ultimately reduce the subsidy.
We’ve been working through our public process to address the questions I raised, as well as the future of the park. The first part of that process is for the county parks department to finalize four different proposals for the future of the park. They include: status quo with maintenance improvements, an equestrian regional blend that removes the race track and adds soccer fields, an “enhanced” equestrian park that expands the functionality of the facility, and converting all of the land into a regional park with various sports fields.
The council will review each of these scenarios and their corresponding costs, as well as ongoing operational costs under each scenario. This, coupled with a better understanding of the value the park provides, will equip the council to make the best decision regarding which scenario is best for the park’s future.
We’ve been collecting a tremendous amount of public input thus far. I want to specifically thank each resident who has offered their perspective through the online survey as well as the town hall event we held at the park.
Moving forward, I am committed to a few key principles. First, I remain absolutely committed to efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars. With every project that this council funds, we should ask whether the benefit to the community justifies the cost to the taxpayer. This principle was the primary motivator for my initial questions about the park, and remains a key focus.
Second, we must maintain our practice of bringing key stakeholders to the table to work together to find a solution both the park users and county taxpayers find acceptable. The Equestrian Park Coalition has already shown tremendous initiative educating county officials—myself in particular— and offering possible solutions.The Mayor’s office has created an Equestrian Park Advisory board, comprised of county parks staff and equestrian park users. This board is instrumental in identifying viable options for the park’s ongoing future.
Lastly, If this park is going to stay, then we as a county need to commit to investing in the park’s future. We will find areas to use taxpayer funds more efficiently, freeing up dollars for other needs, and ultimately reducing our ongoing subsidy of the park. Smart spending coupled with improved management will make a valuable difference.
This is a great example of how Salt Lake County residents, advocates, and elected officials can work together to find the best solution. I’m encouraged by the productive conversations we’ve had so far, and eager to see this important issue soon resolved.