Salt Lake County Mayoral Candidates On COVID-19, Taxes And Olympia Hills
Republican Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs is challenging Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson for her seat this November.
Wilson served on the County Council for 10 years before she was elected to the Mayor’s office in January 2019. The Salt Lake County Democratic Party’s Central Committee picked her in a special election to replace former mayor Ben McAdams, who was elected to represent Utah’s 4th Congressional District.
Staggs was a councilmember in Riverton for four years and won the Mayor’s seat in 2017. Before he got into politics, Staggs was a vice president at a nutritional supplement company.
The voter registration deadline is October 23 and Election Day is November 3.
Salt Lake County has had one of the worst rates of COVID-19 infections per capita, after San Juan, Utah and Wasatch counties.
Mayor Jenny Wilson said she’s proud of the work she and her team have done to handle it, from setting up a unified command early on and creating isolation centers to the county-wide mask mandate .
“I can't imagine a leadership change right now amid so much,” she said. “And as hard as this year has been, we have a record of success.”
But Staggs thinks it is time for a change. He said, despite the mask mandate, cases are still increasing, which Wilson attributes to schools reopening.
While Staggs wouldn’t say whether he supports the county’s mask mandate, he said as mayor he would expand testing using CARES Act money.
“We can protect lives and livelihoods at the same time,” Staggs said. “They're not mutually exclusive. And I think that we can do that largely through testing.”
Staggs has criticized Wilson for a 7.88% property tax hike in December. It was approved by the County Council, but Staggs said he would search for ways to cut back spending.
“My opponent has demonstrated she would like to just maintain the status quo, quite frankly, and grow government the way that it's been,” he said. “And that's necessitated the property tax we're getting hit with today.”
That tax increase costs the average homeowner in the county just about $30 per year, Wilson said.
“It didn't create new programs,” she said. “It didn't create a lot of additional services. But what it did was stabilize our budget and protect our AAA bond rating.”
Salt Lake County Council approved a proposal in March to allow a high-density master planned community in the southern part of the county. Mayors of nearby towns, including Riverton, oppose the development.
Wilson’s predecessor, Rep. Ben McAdams, vetoed the proposal when he was county mayor. But Wilson said that the development will help prevent urban sprawl and that property owners have a right to develop their land if they meet the county’s requirements.
“After years of work, what we now have with Olympia Hills is a very good development,” Wilson said. “There are more parks and more mixed-use and commercial requirements than you've seen in other developments as they've rolled out throughout the county.”
But Staggs said he’s concerned about building dense housing in an area without good public transit and other infrastructure.
“We have to be able to identify the areas in the county where we can have density,” Staggs said. “And I think that's along major transportation and transit corridors.”
Wilson said that infrastructure will come as the development rolls out over the next 25 years and there is more of a tax base in the area to support it.