Summit County prepared for ‘fast and furious’ legislative session
Prominent lobbyist firm hired to aid in effort, relationship building key focus for officials
The Utah legislative session kicked off earlier this week, and Summit County officials have been preparing since the summer for what’s expected to be a “fast and furious” month on Capitol Hill.
After a tough general session in 2022, the County Courthouse shifted focus to building relationships with state representatives and changing the narrative about the work that’s being done in Summit County, according to Janna Young, the interim county manager.
“We want to understand and we want to be understood, that’s kind of our approach to this session,” she said.
The county’s legislative team, which is led by Young, hired the well-known lobbyist firm Foxley & Pignanelli to aid in the effort. The firm has built key relationships on Capitol Hill and has experience dealing with significant topics, such as land use, that are important to Summit County. Young said staffers also have been working with the Utah Association of Counties (UAC) in the interim to help prepare for the 2023 general session, which began Tuesday and runs through March 4.
The Summit County Council and members of the county’s legislative team attended the UAC County Day on Wednesday where staffers met with state officials to hear their top priorities, such as tax breaks for Utahns who saw a large increase in their home value, and preserving the Great Salt Lake.
Water is also a key concern for Summit County. Young said officials discussed how better forest management can help put more water in the ground. Summit County has already completed some restoration and fire mitigation work on the Upper Provo River in the Weber watershed, and has a strong partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.
The Forest Service on Thursday announced funding for work in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in response to the wildfire crisis. Summit County has raised $7 million in its resilience fund that can also go toward similar projects. Young said county staffers plan to monitor for possible legislation and other funding opportunities that promote conservation and improve watershed quality.
Officials are also watching for any bills tied to housing. Gov. Spencer Cox spoke to the group about supply and demand and the need to build more housing, but Young said it’s also important to consider the role of nightly rentals. Short-term rentals in Summit County account for nearly 20% of the total housing stock and officials have struggled with regulating the units.
Rep. Calvin Musselman, a Republican representing Weber County, is considering a proposal that would help county officials prove whether short-term rentals are operating illegally, which the County Courthouse is watching for.
Young said they’re similarly looking for any legislation tied to the moderate-income housing plan or Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zones. Summit County was one of nine counties required to adopt the state policy intended to address affordable housing last year.
County officials are also partnering with High Valley Transit in search of funding for its new headquarters — which could include a workforce housing component.
Bills related to sustainability, land use, public infrastructure, annexation and local control will also be closely monitored, but Young said most haven’t been introduced yet. It’s possible that legislation seeking changes to elections or taxation and revenue may be proposed.
That’s why relationship building has been a primary focus for Summit County. Staffers compiled a one-page document for state officials highlighting the “good news” happening in the county and hope to dispel misconceptions about the community.
“We have found as we’re talking to our allies, but also legislators, whether they have experienced it personally or not, there’s this impression that Summit County is terrible to work with, and that we’re anti-development, and that we’re not doing enough around affordable housing — and we actually have a really good story to tell in a lot of areas,” Young said. “We’re trying to change that narrative and show legislators firsthand all the things we’re doing.”
She’s hopeful the hiring of a prominent lobbyist firm will help the County Courthouse avoid surprises during the general session by providing insight into what’s happening behind the scenes. County officials also expect lawmakers will be willing to make compromises and reach an understanding despite differences in politics.
“The hope is there wouldn’t be surprises, because people wouldn’t want to attack us, because they actually see that we’re doing what they want us to be doing,” Young said. “We tend to fare OK because things end up being livable at the end of the day. Being nimble to react and having those critical conversations is key to our strategy.”
Visit le.utah.gov/~2023/2023.HTM to follow along with the Utah Legislature during the 45-day general session.
The Sheriff’s Office responded to several other calls between Monday, Jan. 23 and Sunday, Sept. 29, including an injury accident, fraud and theft.
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