Summit County manager reflects on a year of work, eyes 2020
Reflecting on a year’s worth of work, Summit County Manager Tom Fisher touted accomplishments from nearly every department in working toward the County Council’s strategic goals.
In some cases, Fisher said, like certain planning and zoning projects, legislative successes and a major health contract change, the effects will be felt for years to come, but it might take a while for the impact to sink in.
“I can name a project probably in every area that took significant staff time that maybe didn’t get the immediate, ‘Oh yeah, that exactly affects my life right away’ type of reaction,” Fisher said.
While it may have flown under the radar at times, the work from county staff has been productive, Fisher said, and in some cases the culmination of years of progress.
One of the more significant changes this year was invisible to most residents. Summit County used a new way to manage the staff’s workload in 2019, and while Fisher said it’s too soon to know if they’ve actually gotten more accomplished, the process itself worked “extremely well.”
The County Council approved its 2020 council-manager compact earlier this month, outlining adherence to the 2020 work plan, along with the plan itself. The council adopted five strategic goals in 2017, and the idea behind the work plan is to prioritize projects related to those goals and tie those projects to budget allocations and specific staff time.
“I don’t know if we’ve gotten more done yet — I don’t think one year of data is enough to really judge that,” Fisher said. “We have certainly been more focused. It’s allowed me and my directors to really hold each other accountable to getting those things done.”
The county is at a sort of inflection point, Fisher said, with its growing population necessitating more public buy-in for plans about things like infrastructure projects in order to secure state and federal dollars. And with the possibility of the Olympics a decade away, Fisher said it’s important the county positions itself well so potential future projects align with the county’s values.
“If you look at the strategic objectives that are around right now, a lot of those point toward — we want to be leaders in areas and we want our county to look different in areas (in coming years),” Fisher said. “Transportation, workforce housing, environmental stewardship, how we link land use to everything else we do and then mental health and substance abuse — those are projected out there so that when the 2030 timeframe rolls around, we’re different than we are today.”
In a recent interview, Fisher reflected on the projects county staff accomplished this year, those they’re looking to tackle next year and connecting the dots between the daily grind and the overarching goals set by elected officials.
Year in review
The massive new roundabouts at the Jeremy Ranch/Pinebrook Interstate 80 interchange are parts of perhaps the most visible project Summit County was involved in this year, but Fisher said some of the county’s planning, legal and legislative accomplishments will have no less an affect on county residents.
The Kimball Junction neighborhood plan, which was approved in June and codifies priorities like transportation integration and mixed-use neighborhoods, may dictate how property is redeveloped in the area and the formation of new neighborhoods to come.
It lays down the county’s stated goal of striving for self-contained neighborhoods in which a resident can walk, bike or ride a bus to accomplish most of their daily needs like commuting to work, picking up groceries or heading to a park.
Also significant was the changeover in the county’s behavioral health provider in September to the University of Utah, which changed the model for providing care and expanded the number of providers significantly.
“It’s a tremendous effort that we are going to see the dividends of for many years,” Fisher said, “but it’s essentially a contract change.”
Fisher sees the acquisition of the 462-acre Gillmor parcel as a successful test case in determining how to deal with contaminated land along the U.S. 40 corridor.
“We had to get this one under our belt first, and it was a heavy lift,” Fisher said. “Now we have a method in place where we can work with the EPA and the other federal partners that are involved in … those operating units that have contamination.”
The site is contaminated from historical mining operations, and was formerly an EPA superfund site. Summit County Chief Civil Attorney Dave Thomas said the legal arrangement, which took years to negotiate, leaves the county protected from future cleanup costs and potential litigation.
Fisher also mentioned ongoing affordable housing work and adopting median income housing and active transportation plans as notable accomplishments.
Two legislative successes in last year’s general session enabled major new endeavors, Fisher said, praising staff for helping shepherd the bills through the Statehouse.
“It’s always a challenge for Summit County to approach the Legislature with more regulations,” he said.
The first bill enabled counties to establish non-voluntary sewer assessment areas, essentially allowing the county more authority to fix existing problems, generally with septic systems, and force developments to adopt certain ways to take care of their waste.
The second effort established the community renewable energy program, in which county or municipal governments could set themselves on the path to giving their residents the option of purchasing renewable energy from Rocky Mountain Power. As of the year-end deadline, five of the six Summit County municipalities had joined Summit County in signing on to the program.
The year to come
Even after a record-breaking year in growth, Fisher thinks land-use will remain a major focus in 2020.
“It’s going to be a big land development year,” he said, highlighting two new zoning tools that are making their way through the review process.
One is a new mixed-use neighborhood zone, which is being pushed along by the application for a large new grocery store near Silver Creek. The idea is to create neighborhoods like those envisioned in the Kimball Junction neighborhood plan that feature different land uses like residences and businesses near each other or even in the same building.
The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission forwarded a positive recommendation to the County Council for the zone this fall, but councilors initially balked at how much additional density the zone could allow.
The other related project is the master planned development process, which would change how developers apply for projects and how the county evaluates them. Both of the tools attempt to incentivize developers to incorporate county priorities like affordable housing and transportation integration.
Fisher anticipates a lot of staff time going to finalizing those processes as large development applications work their way through the system next year, including the Olympic View development, which calls for nearly 2-million-square feet of density.
Fisher said some other major decisions for the County Council next year will include the location for the Bitner Road connection and how to deal with the county’s trash.
The question of where to add a second access route for the Silver Creek neighborhood has been debated since at least 2009 and was the subject of multiple well-attended public hearings this year.
The route will likely either cut across a major ranch, dividing it in two, or go through neighborhoods, which is opposed by those residents.
Considerations for what to do with the county’s solid waste will take place as the current contract with Republic Service is drawing to a close.
“It may not be the sexiest thing, (but the) desire by council is to move the ball forward on the solid waste program,” Fisher said.
County officials have indicated they will consider whether to take over collection services, which would include purchasing trash trucks and hiring staff, looking into pursuing a waste-to-energy plant on the site of the landfill and potentially spearheading a regional effort.
“It is a huge lift, but it probably is not much different over time than what it would cost a private company to do it,” Fisher said of starting trash collecting services. “It’s just a matter of whether you want to get into that business.”
At the meeting earlier this month when the council adopted the 2020 work plan, Fisher and Deputy County Manager Jana Young sought feedback on other items that will likely take up significant staff time.
Those items included working on a new transportation interlocal agreement with Park City to delineate how the transportation system will be managed, considering a mill levy to fund the Health Department, what to do with county property holdings including the Gillmor and Cline Dahle parcels and how to pursue public land management goals including wildfire mitigation and watershed protection.
In accordance with the new work plan model, Fisher indicated that if priorities are shifted, some work might come off the plan to make room for new projects. The goal, he wrote in an accompanying memo, is to focus on priorities rather than “chasing squirrels” as new opportunities come up.
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