Summit County Council considers $50,000 for Central Wasatch Commission
March 7, 2019
Summit County Council members may soon be faced with deciding whether to continue contributing financially to the Central Wasatch Commission to have a say in decisions about growth and development in the central Wasatch Mountains.
Elected officials had an informal conversation last week about whether they support contributing an additional $50,000 toward the commission.
County Council member Chris Robinson, who serves as the county's representative on the commission, brought up the issue during Wednesday's Council meeting. He said he wanted to "take the Council's temperature" ahead of the commission's monthly meeting on Monday, March 4. He sits on a finance subcommittee of the commission.
"We've had a couple meetings and we came up with the idea that we would ask our constituent members if they would want to contribute the same amounts they had already done annually," he said. "We are working on a model that will be sustainable for long-term financing of the Central Wasatch Commission."
Summit County contributed $100,000 to the commission in 2017 when it was first created. The money was originally pledged to the now-defunct Mountain Accord, but it was reallocated to the commission. County Council members at the time were split on the decision.
The contribution was on top of another $100,000 the county paid during the contentious Mountain Accord process between 2013 and 2017. At the time, county leaders signed the Accord because it promoted federal designations for land exchanges and protections in the central Wasatch Mountains, in addition to the creation of transportation corridors between the Wasatch Front and Back. Elected leaders approved the funding because it gave the county a voice in the planning process and helped pay for a $400,000 transportation study of the Interstate 80 corridor.
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The Mountain Accord transformed into the Central Wasatch Commission to give the agency the legal authority to seek, hold and distribute funds, and enter into contracts on behalf of the participating stakeholders.
Members of the commission have been working to redraft the public lands initiative to establish federal land designations within the Mountain Accord area for wilderness and recreation. The legislation addressed land protection, conservation, recreation and economic development for more than 18 million acres of land. The Summit County Council nearly pulled out of the public lands initiative in 2017 because elected officials felt like the county's interests were not being represented in the overall bill.
"There is some headway right now with compromise on land bills," Robinson said. "If we had been a lot better, the ones passed last week would have included the central Wasatch Mountains. But, we are not there yet. We are trying to get there."
Robinson said the commission has also been exploring ways to improve transportation in the Cottonwood Canyons, which he referred to as "a disaster."
"One of my primary interests is getting that federal (land) designation done," he said. "We think we have done a lot. But, until you cross the finish line with getting the act (public lands initiative) signed into law, you have nothing. If we stopped today, we don't have anything to show for it."
Robinson said there is value in the county staying involved and having a connection to the elected leaders along the Wasatch Front. But, he admitted, the process is not without controversy.
"I've spent a lot of time on it over the years," he said. "But, I don't know what level I want to continue funding it."
County Councilors were not asked to make a decision last week. They suggested scheduling a work session in the coming weeks so they could gain a better understanding of what the commission is doing.
County Council member Doug Clyde said he needs more details surrounding how the funds will be used. Clyde was strongly opposed to the Mountain Accord in the beginning. But, he thinks things have changed now.
"I just don't have a complete understanding about what the Central Wasatch Commission is," he said. "I thought the work session was an appropriate concept so that I can get up to speed. I need to understand what is going on. Maybe it is something we are perfectly supportive of. We just have limited information due, in part, to restarting the Central Wasatch Commission. It has been a slow and tedious process."
Roger Armstrong, County Council chair, questioned whether the county will have to continue contributing financially to maintain its seat at the table.
"Now the questions has arisen: Is the Council willing to contribute more money? My question is to what end?" he said. "It's always a budget issue with us and $50,000 is a lot of money to Summit County. We need to have a work session to better understand if we contribute more money what will it be used for and how will it benefit the county."
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