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West Valley City Journal

Do you really know what your County does?

May 06, 2024 09:19AM ● By Aimee Winder Newton

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I’ll be honest, when I first thought about running for the Salt Lake County Council in 2014, I really didn’t know what the county did. I remember sitting in a council meeting and being pretty overwhelmed as I tried to grasp the breadth of the county’s portfolio - criminal justice, behavioral health, prosecution, tourism, tax collection, property surveying/assessing/recording, elections, arts and culture, parks and rec, libraries, health department, aging and adult services, and…who knew that we co-owned a landfill?

As I meet with constituents, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “What does the county do?” So here is a primer on county government.

Salt Lake County is funded through property, sales taxes, and transient room taxes generated from lodging, recreation, and other tourism services. We have a $2.16 billion budget, but in 2014, the state auditor included Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) state funds, currently $416 million, in our overall budget. We don’t have any decision-making authority for UTA, but their budget is counted on ours. Our actual general fund is roughly $600 million. Tourism sales tax dollars go into separate funds for our convention centers and many of our recreation and arts facilities and operations.

The county serves all of its incorporated and unincorporated areas. Incorporated areas have cities and towns that make municipal decisions. In contrast, unincorporated areas do not have a municipal or city government, so Salt Lake County still provides municipal services. By law, the county has to separate budgets–revenues and expenditures–for unincorporated areas. We can’t use countywide-collected taxes to pay for municipal services in the unincorporated areas. We only have about 10,000 people left in unincorporated areas, most of whom are in the Sandy islands, Hi-Country Estates (west of Herriman), and the canyons.

The Salt Lake County Council is the legislative governing body with nine elected officials, including three “At-Large” members elected to represent the entire county for six-year terms and six “District” members representing geographical districts for four-year terms. The county council meets most Tuesdays to discuss issues, make and approve all budgetary changes, enact ordinances and regulations, distribute funds, and authorize intergovernmental agreements.

The county mayor has executive responsibilities like proposing the budget and running the county's day-to-day operations. The mayor can veto legislation and provide suggestions regarding public policy.

The county also has eight independently elected offices – treasurer, assessor, district attorney, surveyor, auditor, recorder, clerk, and sheriff. Each of these officials is elected to a four-year term.

Now that you know more about your county, I would encourage you to try to identify county facilities as you drive around. You’ll see libraries, rec centers, regional parks, health centers, performing arts theaters, and convention centers. We love serving you and appreciate hearing your feedback. You can email me at [email protected].