Summit County Manager Tom Fisher Looks Back on a Tumultuous 2020
As 2020 comes to a close, Summit County Manager Tom Fisher joined KPCW for a look back at an unprecedented year and a preview of what might be in store for 2021.
It almost goes without saying that tackling a global health crisis was on no government official’s wish list one year ago.
In December 2019, winter was in full swing throughout the Wasatch Back and the local economy was firing on all cylinders. All eyes were on a strong 2020 where local governments would have the chance to tackle some of the region's most pressing issues like affordable housing and transportation head-on.
By now, we all know how much plans changed.
Between managing the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, worrying about a faltering resort-based economy, and navigating a controversial annexation by a small town in neighboring Wasatch County, it’s safe to say Summit County Manager Tom Fisher has dealt with his fair share of monkey wrenches this year.
Fisher says the early months of the pandemic were unfamiliar territory. Money earmarked for other projects was instead diverted to combat the crisis. But he says even with the complications, the county managed to keep several projects on track.
“We were reallocating some of those resources towards the emergency itself and still kept a lot of projects going and really stayed on our work plan as much as possible. At the same time, we, early, saw the reality of what this emergency was going to do to our economy and we made major budget adjustments in reaction to that, which also changed what we were going to accomplish during the year.”
Despite the budget cuts, the county formed a new transportation district and is set to take over regional transit operations this coming June. Fisher says given the ever-increasing road congestion, local governments are united in their desire to take on the issue.
The ongoing Hideout annexation into Summit County was another pressing issue on Fisher’s desk this year. He says when the small town on the Jordanelle Reservoir took advantage of a now-repealed piece of state legislation to annex land in Summit County without the county’s consent, it showed how connected issues like adequate services, transportation, and affordable housing really are across the region.
“All of these issues are tied together and we need to engage parties across the county lines, service providers across the county lines, because we know there’s a lot of pressure coming. It’s already here and more is coming that we have to deal with.”
The fate of the annexation is now in the hands of Hideout residents, who will be voting on whether or not to approve the move in a referendum next June.
When it comes to COVID-19, Fisher says although some of the county’s early decisions may have seemed heavy-handed and unpopular, he believes the way the pandemic has played out validates the county’s actions.
“We saw this both locally and nationwide; the early response was the right response in trying to stop the spread, and we were successful in doing that. I know not everybody agreed with the methods that were in place, but, really, if you look back at what Summit County was promoting along the way, even state and local governments around our own area and then nationally seemed to follow that same track over time as the science was pointing in that direction.”
Summit County was one of the first parts of the state to lock down in March and April and has had a mask mandate in place since late June. As of this report, Summit County has recorded five COVID-19 deaths. The statewide death toll is currently over 1,200.
But the county is not out of the woods yet. The pandemic has only gotten worse in recent months and a full economic recovery could take years, according to government projections.
The good news is vaccinations for the disease began this month and if things stay on schedule, life could be returning to something we could call normal sometime in 2021.