Summit County Approves 2019 Budget
In their last regular meeting of the year, the Summit County Council approved a budget for 2019 Wednesday night, after no one appeared to give public comment.
The only discussion council had before approval was whether to allocate $100,000 in Transient Room tax monies toward an economic development project in the North Summit area.
The issue came up due to a proposal from County Development Director Pat Putt for a Summit Scenic Heritage Byway.
The budget has proposed allocating $100,000 in TRT monies for a study to look at enhancing the Rail Trail.
Council member Roger Armstrong has questioned the item. He said Wednesday the specific use for the money hasn’t been well defined, and more discussion should occur with citizens in North Summit.
“If we have those discussions in North Summit about this kind of economic development, I think some of those things will start to tease out.” Armstrong continued, “There may very well be opportunities there, but I just don’t know that sequestering $100,000 in advance of doing that without any thought or concept about where, why or how, even starting to be developed.”
One other factor, he said, is the chance they may see a downturn in the tourism economy that generates the TRT dollars.
“I do believe that we are in danger of seeing an economic retraction.” Armstrong explained, “This year and that retraction may be directly related to TRT. Bookings are down, and I’m just concerned that the TRT funding that we’re anticipating could be reduced this year just based on economic conditions on the horizon.”
Armstrong said he could favor setting aside a smaller amount, $20-25,000 in TRT funds.
Council member Chris Robinson also said he’d rather see the $100,000 go toward some brick and mortar projects rather than a plan.
Last week, in the only public comment on the budget, representatives from the Mountain Trails Foundation suggested there could be other ways to plan for the Rail Trail.
Council Chairwoman Kim Carson said the issue is a bit like the chicken or the egg. They can ask why allocate the money if they don’t have a plan. But it’s also likely they won’t get started on a plan without the funding behind it.
She added that Armstrong’s concern about the economy is why she supports action on the Byway concept.
“I think that’s for me all the reason more to start this.” Carson said, “To help create some economic opportunities on the east side.”
Council member Doug Clyde told Armstrong that allocating the money makes sense to him.
“Coming from my perspective especially as a person who was a resort operator in a very capital-intensive business.” Clyde continued, “You can’t do your long-range planning around short swings in the economy. You’ve got to plan for expansion of the quality of your recreation now. You’ve got to borrow the money if you’re a real business. If you happen to be in our shoes you get it out of TRT. I think know is the time to be moving these things forward because they’re very important I believe, economic fulcrum points for the east side of the county.”
“I don’t disagree with any of that.” Armstrong replied, “I just don’t know what these things are. These things don’t exist.”
In the end, the council approved the budget with the caveat that spending form the Transient Room Tax funds will be postponed until the Council reviews and approves a use.
The county’s Chief Financial Officer, Matt Leavitt said they have certainly done a set-aside before with TRT monies.
“If that’s the direction.” Leavitt said, “We’ve gone down this road with TRT projects in the past where we’ve started the beginning of the year. We wanted to do an RFP or something on X, Y or Z. Then by the time the idea germinates and comes back to the council there’s a change of thought or direction. So it’s there.”