Liza Simpson retires after a mostly fun time as a Park City Councilor
Liza Simpson was sworn into office as a member of the Park City Council in early 2008, a time when trouble was beginning to appear in the global economy.
By that fall, the stock-market convulsions starkly illustrated that Park City would not be able to tiptoe around the recession. Simpson, who is retiring this week from the City Council after two terms, was part of the Park City leadership that guided the community through the downturn and then into what became one of the city’s boom eras.
Simpson said she is proud of City Hall’s financial performance through the downturn. She said the municipal government made cuts to the budget without major impacts in the community and, for a City Councilor seen as perhaps being the greatest champion of City Hall staffers, without eliminating positions.
"It’s a tough balancing act to figure out where and how you’re going cut," Simpson said in an interview as the end of her term approached, adding, "Ideally, you do all the budget cuts and nobody notices."
There have been occasional chatter about raising property taxes in Park City, but there has not been an increase in years. An increase in property taxes would be seen as something that would deliver steadier stream of revenue for City Hall than sales taxes, which can fluctuate greatly depending on the economy.
Simpson said City Hall and the community have not had a "calm conversation about raising property taxes." A tax increase is not needed at this time, but regular discussions are warranted as part of City Hall’s broader budget talks, she said.
Simpson is 53 years old and lives in Old Town. She is a clerk at Dolly’s Bookstore on Main Street who specializes in the mystery section. Simpson, who hails from Berkeley, Calif., is seen as one of City Hall’s more left-leaning politicians. She won the City Council seat in the 2007 election and then won another term in 2011 before not seeking re-election in 2015. She was a member of City Hall’s Recreation Advisory Board and a City Park host prior to winning the City Council seat.
Simpson plans to remain in Park City and anticipates being involved in poverty issues, Latino issues and women’s leadership.
Simpson said she aspired to be a City Councilor to help make Park City a better place, a goal that is likely shared by anyone who serves in elected office. Simpson, though, said bettering the community can happen in small steps, such as installing a streetlight on a road like Marsac Avenue.
"The little things are some of the things that impact our day-to-day lives in a big way," she said. "It affirms for the citizens that their municipal government is here for them."
She is proud of the construction projects City Hall completed during her tenure. They included the renovation of the Marsac Building, the redo of the Park City Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center, the renovation of the Park City Library, the Park City Ice Arena and the development of a worker-housing project outside the Public Works Building as well as a bus barn there.
The Marsac Building renovation, she noted, ensured the municipal government remained in the core of Old Town. It showed a commitment to Main Street, Simpson said. She said the library and the athletic facilities have proven popular.
"If we built what our constituents wanted, the tourists are going to love it, too," she said.
She acknowledged that City Hall needs to spot issues earlier, "before people become entrenched in positions." The municipal government could improve its outreach efforts and its responsiveness, Simpson said, adding that the public sometimes forms opinions based on erroneous information. The toughest part of serving as a City Councilor were "moments it felt like we were no longer a community that could agree to disagree." She declined to identify any of those times.
Serving as a City Councilor involves "85 percent fun, 15 percent brain damage," she said. Simpson gives her City Council service a B+ or an A- on an A-to-F grading scale. She said she listened to the various sides and learned about issues prior to making a decision. That was "probably the most important skill I brought to the table," she said.
"I tried very hard to listen both to staff and the rest of Council and mayor," Simpson said. "I always, always, always did my homework."
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Arlene Loble served as the Park City manager in the 1980s, a pivotal period that prepared the community for the boom years that would follow in the 1990s. Loble, who recently died, is credited with introducing a level of professionalism to the municipal government that was needed amid the growth challenges.