Park Record 2018 Voter Guide: Summit County Council Seat E
With Election Day approaching, and mail-in ballots on their way to residents, The Park Record asked candidates to answer a series of questions in their own words in order to help voters make informed decisions. View the answers of candidates in other races here.
Why are you seeking election to the Summit County Council and what are your qualifications to serve?
Glenn Wright (Democrat, incumbent): I am seeking another term to finish some critical work in the areas of renewable energy, carbon footprint, solid waste, and forest fire issues.
We have critical health and safety issues facing Summit County exacerbated by negative policies from the Federal government. Fortunately, local government can help to mitigate some of these policies if enough local governmental entities will step up.
Summit County is working with Park City, Salt Lake City, and Rocky Mountain Power on getting legislation through the next legislative session to bring 100% renewable electrical energy into the county. I have been the principle council member involved with this project.
The carbon footprint issues go beyond just renewable energy and include zoning and development code issues. Also critical is promotion of electrical vehicles and charging infrastructure in Summit County and in the state. Our solid waste program currently produces over ½ of the carbon footprint from county government operations. Moving to a waste to energy regime can greatly reduce this effect.
Forest fires in Summit County can have immediate life safety exposures to our residents and lasting negative effects on the watershed, environment and carbon footprint. I am working on both the local and state level on this issue.
Josh Mann (Unaffiliated, write-in): I’m worried about the direction of Summit County. We’ve spent years protecting our open spaces. Yet the county plans to add development in multiple places. The entrance to Jeremy Ranch will be further developed. Seven to nine hundred apartments will be added next to Jeremy Ranch Elementary School. Development would continue along Rasmussen Road and near Silver Creek. Highway 40 would be further developed. These plans will transform the Basin into a sprawling suburb. I don’t want that.
Likewise, other issues concern me. First, communication from the Summit County Council is not timely enough for action. Second, we need to use technology to enable the council to listen, explain, and educate. Third, our transportation strategy focuses on buses. If you can’t easily get to a bus, then you don’t use it. Instead, we need to get buses into neighborhoods and e-bikes into garages. I want to expand paved trails and make alternative methods of transportation safer.
I’ve followed the Summit County Council since 2012 through my Park Rag website. I will bring a critical eye to the council. Perhaps most importantly, I have two young children and live in the Snyderville Basin, which are demographics underrepresented on the County Council.
Is the County Council committing enough resources toward the affordable and workforce housing shortage? If not, how would you suggest increasing support?
Wright: The Council has approved projects in Silver Creek Village (330 units) and the Canyons base (1100+ workforce beds). Ground breaking on the first roughly 1/3 of units at Silver Creek will be soon. In a recent discussion with the manager of the CVMA, he expects the Canyons project to break ground next year and be (hopefully) complete by 2022.
I believe, that in the future, the County could use tax increment financing and other transportation related revenues to create infrastructure that could facilitate more affordable housing.
Our development philosophy will also either promote or discourage affordable housing growth. If we allow sprawl, we will make housing less affordable. If we encourage density in places with transportation and infrastructure, we can promote smarter development that includes affordable housing.
Mann: Everyone agrees that affordable housing is important. However, Summit County’s efforts suffer from mismanagement. Over 50% of affordable units at Bear Hollow were found unoccupied by primary residents; they were rented by owners for a significant gain. The county also found that HOA fees made these units practically unaffordable.
Now the County Council is looking at using our open space for affordable housing and increasing zoning that lets developers add more retail development if they agree to build additional affordable units. Our county appears desperate to build affordable housing at any cost.
We need to take a step back and decide what we are really trying to accomplish, how we enforce it, and how we make it equitable. There is not an easy answer to affordable housing. However, I will look for creative ways to achieve more affordable housing without taking away our open spaces and making poor short-term decisions.
The County Council has approved a property tax increase, as well as two sales-tax hikes since 2017. Both decisions were unanimous. Were the increases justified?
Wright: The County’s revenues come from 3 general sources, property taxes, general sales taxes, and intergovernmental transfers from the state and federal government. Sales taxes can be very variable, fluctuating with the economy, as can intergovernmental transfers. The property tax provides a steady stream, but does not increase with inflation, due to Utah’s Truth in Taxation law. The County had not passed a general property tax increase in over 30 years during which inflation had decreased buying power by a large percentage. The current low unemployment environment makes it increasingly difficult to attract and retain good staff without salary and benefit increases.
Transportation is a community priority and the voters passed a sales tax increment in 2016 specifically for this purpose. In 2018 the Legislature passed the buck to Counties on transportation funding and Summit County adopted transportation related sales tax increments that they permitted.
Mann: The ultimate judge of whether past tax increases are justified is whether people see tangible benefits. Have I seen tangible benefits from the tax increases in the past few years? I don’t think so — at least not yet. I would ask the people reading what benefits they have seen.
In the past ten years, the population of Summit County has increased by 16%. The budget has increased by 95%. That increase isn’t sustainable. We need a critical eye on the council to start separating the things we need from the things we want.
The County Council has found itself at odds with the state Legislature in the past on issues related to public lands, the environment and funding for education, among others. How would you describe the county’s relations with state elected officials? What areas still need more focus so that the county’s interests are being reflected on Capitol Hill?
Wright: It is true that the legislature does not care much or is actively hostile to Summit County on many critical issues. That is why we need allies. In my time on the council I have cultivated relationships among other elected officials and in the corporate world.
I have been active within the Mountainlands Association of Governments (MAG)and this year was elected chair of the MAG Area on Aging. This past spring, this body approved expansion of the meals on wheels program in Summit County to 5 days/week.
I have attended numerous meetings of the Utah Association of Counties (UAC). While many of the issues discussed at these meetings are not in particular alliance with Summit County values, we have found common ground on the issues of wildland fires, forest management, and renewable energy (with key counties). The latter alliance has helped advance our renewable energy goals with the legislature.
Mann: In this election, seven unopposed Democrats are running for positions in Summit County. Republicans have apparently given up on Summit County. The Legislature has likely given up on Summit County too.
Being unaffiliated allows me the opportunity to engage with both parties without partisanship. Discussions can be about ideas and not about ideology. What I offer is an unaffiliated viewpoint. I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I believe in fewer taxes. I believe in small government. I respect property rights. While not religious, I respect the rights of people to embrace their religion. I don’t care who you marry or what bathroom you use. That’s your business. I’m squarely in the middle.
Being in the middle provides an opportunity for constructive dialog with legislative members about our most significant upcoming issues – the Olympics, school funding, and the environment.
Plans to pursue another bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics have been announced. Is Summit County poised to host another Olympics? What would be needed to make the area viable for the games?
Wright: Because Utah and Summit County have preserved its Olympic facilities, we are in better position than nearly any other bidder to host the Olympics right now.
Should we be awarded the Olympics, it is likely that federal and state money could be made available that could be used for preparations that would also contribute to county goals of enhancing affordable housing, transportation and carbon footprint.
A new Olympic Village for athletes could become affordable housing. Transportation money could accelerate development of a bus rapid transit system, connections to the Wasatch Front and improved micro-transit feeder lines. It is extremely likely that the IOC would require low carbon footprint goals for the Games. This could accelerate the County’s goals in this area.
Mann: I believe Utah will win the bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics. That both excites me and terrifies me. My children will be teenagers in 2030. It will be an exciting and one-of-a-kind experience for all of our children.
Yet, it’s also terrifying. Olympics are often plagued by overspending, a large amount of debt, and substantial maintenance costs for what was built. We have to remember that while the Olympics are a two-week spectacle, the effects are forever.
I want the Olympics in 2030, but I want to see it done well. I want to use our existing infrastructure, and I’d support investing in making that infrastructure better. However, we don’t need to double our population. We don’t need to change what makes Summit County unique. We cannot let Summit County become overdeveloped as a result of the 2030 Olympics. It wouldn’t be worth it in the long-run.
How does your platform differ from your opponent’s?
Wright: To Grow or Not to Grow, Is that the question? The reality is that the population of Summit County is not growing any faster than that of the state. What has grown faster is jobs. Data from about 2 years ago indicated that, daily, 9000 people commute out of the county and 14,000 in bound. The development question is how do we cope with this trend?
I believe that we cope with it by encouraging dense development, including affordable housing, at nodes that have infrastructure, amenities and transportation. We need to develop dense walkable neighborhoods on the westside and encourage annexation and infrastructure growth on the eastside of the county. A transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program can facilitate consolidation of existing development rights.
We need to build out a transportation system that serves the core, encourages remote parking, and connects nodes on both sides of the county.
The Federal government has placed the world in deep jeopardy due to its hostile climate policies. Local governments must do what we can to counteract these policies. I also encourage voters to support all 4 statewide initiatives. We can affect the direction of public policy if we follow the issues, vote, and become activists.
Mann: I believe Mr. Wright is for the status quo, increasing entitlements, and adding development along the I-80/Hwy-40 corridor. He has advocated for transferring development into our neighborhoods through a mechanism that hasn’t been created yet. That sounds like a recipe for disaster.
I want to slow development; not increase it. I’m not content with the current state and direction of Summit County. The County Council needs to communicate better in advance so people can affect change. The Council needs a voice that is willing to challenge ideas and question precedent. I will be that voice.
Practically speaking, I’m also different because my name won’t be on the ballot. I need you to write my name in for County Council Seat E. If you agree with my perspective, I need you to write “Josh Mann” in the space designated for the write-in candidate underneath Glenn Wright’s name.
Thanks for your consideration. With your help, I believe we can preserve the Summit County we all love.
According to the Summit County Clerk’s Office, ballots for the Nov. 6 election are set to begin arriving by mail on Friday, Oct. 19. Ballots returned through the mail must be postmarked by Nov. 5. Residents can register to vote online or at the Clerk’s Office through Oct. 30. Same-day registration will also be available at four voting assistance centers throughout the county on Election Day. Visit http://co.summit.ut.us/281/Voter-Registration-Elections for more information.
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