The Park Record Editorial Dec. 6, 2008
For the last 20 years, Summit County’s elected officials have been able to approve lots of new capital projects without raising taxes. Those days, though, may be over.
With fewer new commercial projects under construction, a significant slowdown in real-estate sales and a projected slump in sales-tax revenues, the commission can’t rely on new growth to pay for the expanded and enhances services that residents have come to expect.
This year, holding the line on property taxes will require cuts in spending.
After four preliminary budget sessions, county department heads and the commissioners have managed to trim $6 million from the proposed $52 million county budget. But if the nationwide recession deepens, more cuts may be necessary.
So far, the building and planning departments have agreed to staff reductions. Those cuts, though painful, appropriately reflect the decrease in new projects. However, many previously approved projects are underway and it is important that they receive the same scrutiny other projects have undergone to ensure their safety and compliance with county regulations. And that still requires manpower.
At the same time, while new growth may be waning, the number of cars on county roads is still increasing, which means that the demands for road maintenance and snowplowing haven’t diminished. Nor have citizens’ demands on law enforcement and public safety.
Which doesn’t leave much to cut – except from the top.
In the process of deciding how much to allot for the changeover to the new form of government, citizens were told the switch would be cost neutral. Both the sitting commissioners and the new council members should keep their promise, especially in light of the severe economic downturn.
In order to redistribute the three commissioners’ salaries among five council members and a new county manager, the new council should take minimal salaries and benefits, similar to those taken by Park City council members, and invest the balance in attracting a professional manager. (The commissioners currently earn $60,000 per year plus benefits while Park City council members receive about $11,000 plus benefits). The county should also hold off on hiring an assistant manager until there is a better understanding of how responsibilities will be divided between the new county manager, the elected department heads and the five county councilors.
Finally, while they may be legally entitled to continue drawing salaries for the balance of their four-year terms, outgoing commissioners Bob Richer and Ken Woolstenhulme should gracefully decline that compensation. Richer has already said he will not ask for that money. However, Woolstenhulme, who fought against the new form of government, has said he will take the money and give it to charity.
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Park City officials are preparing to take what is considered to be an important step in protecting the Treasure land from wildfires. City Hall in early June requested proposals from firms interested in the work.