Summit County notebook: Special session impacts, budget amended by $3M, 6 planning commissioners appointed
Council eyes special session
County officials are paying close attention to the state Legislature’s special session, which convened Thursday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Wednesday’s County Council meeting, Councilor Kim Carson said it appeared that the county would be given flexibility to use certain sales tax revenue to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic on local businesses and nonprofits.
That could free up more than $10 million, according to the county’s finance officer.
Sales taxes that were explicitly approved by voters, like the recreation, arts and parks (RAP) tax, would likely not get a reprieve, she added.
Carson was referencing H.B. 3009, which also includes provisions to give local chief executives the power to grant “orders of restraint,” rather than local health officers. In Summit County, that would mean County Manager Tom Fisher, and not Health Director Rich Bullough, would have the power to issue orders like the one that compelled residents to stay at home except for essential trips.
There has been little daylight between the executive and the health officer locally, as both Fisher and Bullough signed the stay-at-home order and continue to work closely on the local pandemic response.
Jami Brackin, a county civil attorney and an authority on the Legislature, said she expected the bill to have substantive changes when it was debated Friday, after The Park Record’s press deadline.
Late last month, the County Council asked Gov. Gary Herbert for flexibility to use what it referred to as hospitality taxes to help local small businesses and nonprofits struggling during the pandemic.
The governor did not respond publicly. The special session may last for up to 10 days, during which time legislators are meeting remotely.
Budget amendment passes
Summit County cut $3 million from its 2020 budget on Wednesday in the first of what are anticipated to be at least two budget amendments officials have said are necessary to deal with projected revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county’s finance staff initially estimated a budget shortfall of $3.5 million to $4.2 million but, after feedback from elected officials, have moved the target to $5 million in budget cuts. Officials have indicated they’d rather overestimate the impact and reintroduce programs later if the economic situation allows it.
The majority of the county’s $61 million operating budget pays the salaries and benefits of county employees, the number of whom in an average year can range up to 380.
County Manager Tom Fisher has said that laying off or furloughing employees would be a last resort, but has acknowledged that salaries and benefits have to be considered when deciding how to cut nearly 10% of the operating budget.
The bulk of the cuts in the initial budget amendment come from a hiring freeze for non-essential personnel and already-announced merit raises for some staff members. Finance Officer Matt Leavitt told the council those account for around $450,000 and $500,000 in savings, respectively.
The budget amendment also cut more than $750,000 in planned contributions to contingency fund balances.
There are other options available to make the budget whole, including spending down fund balances and borrowing from a tax stability fund, which could yield more than $15 million. But Leavitt has warned against using one-time sources of revenue for ongoing expenditures.
The County Council has reappointed three commissioners to each of the county’s planning commissions.
On the Eastern Summit County Planning Commission, the council appointed Tom Clyde, Bill Wilde and Marion Wheaton, all of whom currently serve on the commission.
On the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission, the council appointed Thomas Cooke, Canice Harte and Joel Fine, all of whom currently serve on the commission.
All of the terms are set to expire Feb. 28, 2023.
Harte is vying for a County Council seat against fellow planning commissioner Malena Stevens. The winner will have to step down from the Planning Commission as it is against county code to serve on both bodies at once.
The council interviewed additional candidates for both commissions, but chose to reappoint those already serving. The positions are term limited and County Councilor Kim Carson said the council generally reappoints commissioners to serve the full number of terms unless they prove unfit for the task.
— Alexander Cramer
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