Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson's State of the County Address
Good evening! And a warm welcome Salt Lake County residents!
I especially want to thank the County Parks and Recreation Team and South Jordan for hosting us.
I’d like to ask that any South Jordan elected officials stand and be recognized tonight.
And members of the Salt Lake County Council and our county elected officials, please stand.
And any additional elected officials, mayors, councilmembers, legislators, would you also please stand? Thank you for being here tonight.
As we enter 2024, I am both THRILLED and RELIEVED to announce that Salt Lake County remains a LEADING county in the nation to live, work, and raise a family.
And why relieved? Because just a few years to the heart of COVID, I would never have imagined our community would have rebounded as quickly as it has.
It feels like just yesterday we were isolated in our homes and offices due to the global pandemic. I remember the anxiety, concern, and uncertainty I felt during that time.
I knew our county had a future, but, at one of our lowest moments, that future seemed uncertain.
Thankfully, and in a large part due to the resolve of our community, Salt Lake County has bounced back. We have one of the most robust economies in the country.
As the most diversified economy in the state, Salt Lake County is home to many amazing businesses, both large and small, that help drive our positive economic growth. Salt Lake County’s unemployment rate of 2.6% remains one of the lowest in the nation. And I am proud to report that, once again, our county is 1 of only 49 counties in the nation with a Triple-A bond rating from every major agency. This is an amazing feat, especially given there are over 3,000 counties in the nation. This allows us to keep taxes down, while delivering services to residents.
It is against this backdrop that I am proud to report our future is bright. And Salt Lake is now – more than ever – a destination for businesses looking to expand, and people seeking to relocate or recreate.
And just a year ago, we proudly hosted the NBA All-Star Game, drawing national attention to our county and state, all the while breaking revenue records compared to other host locations.
Looking ahead, the upcoming year promises to be a bustling period for Salt Lake County's convention centers and meeting spaces. We anticipate welcoming over 100,000 people to our region. Key events include the Outdoor Retailers, Fan X, and dozens of additional events that fill our hotels and restaurants with guests leaving ENAMORED with our community.
Who would have thought, just a few short years ago, that we would be on the verge of hosting the 2034 Olympic and Paralympic Games. And potentially landing two new professional sports teams! Major League Baseball and National Hockey! These events will not only further elevate Utah’s status on the international stage but also supercharge our already thriving local economy.
Also, our economic strength isn’t just due to these high-profile opportunities. It’s the work done by our cities and towns to expand small businesses LOCALLY and create vibrant neighborhoods and town centers.
Just one recent example is Millcreek Common. This new complex on 1300 East is a city hall and a community meeting place with skating, concerts, and shopping all in one location. It includes more than 1,500 housing units. It represents a commitment to building beautiful, functional spaces that serve as hubs for community engagement and economic growth.
If you follow Millcreek’s lead, long gone are the days of stale government centers! Salt Lake County played a pivotal role in bringing this vision to life, and I want to give a huge shout-out to Mayor Silvestrini and the broader Millcreek team for their vision and success with this project.
Our county’s economic strength matters deeply, but our quality of life is about a lot more than our financial bottom line.
Salt Lake County’s art centers, parks, libraries, trails, and rec centers are at the heart of what we do.
It’s about kids and parents connecting. Neighbors and friends getting together. It’s about the bonds made when a daughter and her dad go sledding together at Sugar House or Hunter Park. It's about a basketball pick-up game or even the scheduling battles for our pickleball courts!
This evening began with the honor of being introduced by Jada Richard, Jada is a sophomore at Copper Hills High School with a deep passion for basketball. Her determination to play for the club team at Copper Hills was unwavering. To make the squad, she practiced at the local rec center, investing five dollars each time to hone her skills. Initially, she enjoyed these practice sessions with friends. However, the expense of twenty dollars a week became a burden for their families. Jada found herself more and more alone in the gym. Yet her dedication never wavered. It was around this time that she learned about my proposal to provide free access to county rec centers for kids aged 5 to 18.
At the time, the only thing that stood between me and making this a reality, was the Salt Lake County Council, who has budget authority around here… Luckily, Jada was so inspired by this initiative that she wrote a letter to the Council.
Writing that the free rec pass quote: “allows me and my friends to hangout and have fun! But sometimes they tell me they unfortunately can’t come because they don’t have the funds…which I agree could be a lot.” End quote.
After months of planning, support from residents like Jada; and the strong support from the Tourism, Recreational, Conventions and Cultural Committee, the My County Rec Pass plan was overwhelmingly approved by the council. I’m so excited that this plan will be implemented starting this summer.
Now Jada, and every kid in our county will be able to hit the court, the climbing wall and the swimming pool for free.
In a world where all of us are lured by the pull of our screens, I’m so happy the county prioritizes the health of our kids and teens. These options are so important at a time when our young people are struggling with historic levels of mental health challenges. Thanks to this new program our kids will exercise their bodies, their minds, and meet new friends. In real life, and not through the glow of their screens.
But, speaking of quality of life… oh, there’s more to discuss!
We have also continued to build upon our expansive network of trails, parks, and recreation centers.
During my tenure, and with a lot of input and encouragement from the Salt Lake County Council, we secured $9 million dollars for a lap lane expansion right here at the South Jordan Recreation Center. Construction will begin mid-year and our hope is to be finished about a year from now. The expansion will add seven new lap lanes, bleachers, and a timing system. It will create a space that serves swim clubs, teams, and our senior community.
We also opened the first phase of the Bingham Creek Regional Park, now the county's largest park, spanning 50 acres, when completed it will offer 160 acres of recreation opportunities. This site, once an ugly gravel pit, has been transformed into a vibrant park. It features multipurpose playing fields, playgrounds, a mountain biking skills course, a pavilion, and miles of walking trails. And additionally, there’s an 18-hole disc golf course. And we’re not done yet! We have several exciting projects in the works at Bingham Creek!
In August we cut the ribbon on a project years in the making. The Butterfield Trailhead Regional Park system is part of a significant partnership with Rio Tinto and the Bureau of Land Management. Just last fall we opened up the initial phase of 14.2 miles of new trails in previously inaccessible areas. This is indeed game-changing as these trails are located in the southwest area of our county which previously had limited trail access. And, we continue to build more and more urban trails and access points throughout Salt Lake County.
We are dedicated to enhancing accessible, equitable, sustainable, and high-quality trails and open spaces for all residents.
So, how are we able to do all this? Well, it’s through a unique blend of collaboration and community spirit that we prioritize at Salt Lake County. I’m proud of that! Parks, Potholes and Planning are not Partisan! By the way, when the International Organizing Committee announced Utah as the likely host of the 2034 Games, it was largely due to our community unity and collective effort that gave us an edge over other cities and nations.
Our future is bright, but we must continue to recognize that families throughout our county still face challenges. Inflation and high housing costs are REAL pressures. The idea of college is becoming more and more out of reach. Salt Lake County’s amazing regional development team is working diligently on these and other challenges. We are motivated and care deeply!
And Salt Lake County is extremely good at pivoting to meet the need. You saw it with the COVID pandemic, an earthquake, and a 100-year windstorm. And this past year the highest snowpack on record led to a concern over the potential for millions and millions of dollars in damages to properties throughout the County. And even a concern over the potential loss of life. But our county flood control team, hand in hand with our cities and volunteers from throughout the County, literally stepped up and saved the day. They jumped to action and then turned around and did it again last August when record rainfall struck again.
Our response was precise, efficient, and deliberate. Thanks to our preparations, and yes, a little luck, we avoided a potential disaster. We will take the lessons we learned last year and if need be, apply them again this year, as we watch the weather and the snowpack levels.
It wasn’t just the weather that was a challenge last year. It was the balance sheet as well. This year, Salt Lake County faced one of the most challenging budgets I have ever experienced in my years in county government. We watched as revenue dipped and our county’s health insurance costs skyrocketed. Working closely and across party lines, we had robust negotiations, overcame disagreements, and unanimously passed a very lean budget but one that prioritizes county services.
We’ve had some fun this year through my book club. I have hosted a variety of discussions designed to inform and engage our community. We’ve learned about the history of basketball, witnessed an eclipse together. And took a deep dive on the challenge of the shrinking Great Salt Lake. We will soon honor our local refugee community through a special book that highlights stories from many amazing community members.
As we plan and look to the challenges and opportunities of 2024, my administration will continue to tackle the issues surrounding those in need of shelter, mental health, and addiction services. We are also committed to criminal justice reform.
Salt Lake County is leading in addressing these challenges.
Our model aims to intervene early, keeping people out of jail and the courts, through evidence-based interventions and accountability. It operates by finding ways to steer people facing obstacles, to better options.
We developed and implemented a robust plan to support our homeless population during the colder months. We’ve expanded services to youth facing homelessness, doubling our capacity to assist young people aging out of foster care through our Milestone program. And partnering with many stakeholders – especially Sandy City - We just opened a facility housing the medically vulnerable population. This project, funded and supported by many, including our county, will serve 165 individuals, offering them the necessary care and support. That’s 165 people who will move off the streets and out of our resource centers to supportive housing!
In a significant step towards addressing the housing crisis in our community, last year we expanded our investment to our housing trust fund by an historic $25 million dollars. This will result in 17 new affordable housing projects. Through this we will soon have an additional 1,500 units of housing in our community.
2024 will play out as a year where we look to the future and prepare for additional growth and the evolving needs of our community. We are working hand in hand with partners to adjust the way law enforcement is delivered to many communities throughout the county. Salt Lake County is committed to public safety! We are seeking to ensure that the breakup of the Unified Policing District doesn’t compromise law enforcement throughout the region.
Our entire team at Salt Lake County. Our auditor, clerk, sheriff, recorder, district attorney, treasurer, surveyor, assessor, council, and I are dedicated to YOU our residents. And our staff is the best in the nation. Together we are Team Salt Lake County! And we are continually inspired by serving our community.
So, thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for putting your trust in me as your mayor. It is my privilege to guide our community through both prosperous times and challenging moments. But before I let you go, I have more to share about Jada.
Jada made the basketball team and the season is well underway! And thanks to the “My County Rec Pass”, she and her friends will soon be able to improve their basketball skills whenever they want, for free.
And one more thing, and this part truly inspires me: This coming week, Jada, as part of Salt Lake County’s youth government group, will travel to Washington DC. There, she will meet with our federal delegation. In her conversations with Utah’s senators and representatives, Jada will advocate passionately for a plan like Salt Lake County’s to be expanded to other kids. Her goal is to inspire more active lifestyles among our youth.
Ultimately, isn't this what our public service is all about? To pave the way for kids like Jada in our community to drive towards their goals, take their shot, and score their success?
I am so proud that Salt Lake County is playing a role as a critical member of the team, that makes the assist, and sets them up for the win.