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Govt-and-politics
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Utah County’s 2020 budget: Which departments will see the biggest budget increases, decreases

After months of discussion over which county departments needed budget increases to function properly or prevent staff from becoming overwhelmed with their work, the Utah County Commission passed a resolution on Dec. 17 finalizing its 2020 budget.

Multiple departments and agencies urged the commission to increase their budgets for the upcoming year. In their discussions, Commissioners Tanner Ainge, Nathan Ivie and Bill Lee all agreed that some departmental budget increases were necessary.

Total general fund expenditures for 2019 were $94.3 million, according to the budget resolution passed by the commission. The commission voted 2-1 to increase general fund expenditures by $10.1 million, 10.7%, for 2020, making total general fund expenditures for next year $104.4 million.

Ainge and Ivie voted in favor of the resolution, saying that these budget increases were necessary for departments like the sheriff’s office and attorney’s office to serve their essential functions for the community.

Here is a breakdown of the 2020 budget passed by the Utah County Commission and a look at which county services will see budget increases and which will see cuts.

Methodology: This data comes from the 2020 budget resolution adopted by the Utah County Commission on Dec. 17, which was provided by Deputy Clerk Josh Daniels. The increases and decreases were calculated by subtracting the 2019 current budget from the 2020 final budget.

The biggest budget increases

Attorney’s office: $2.6 million increase (28.9%)

The biggest dollar-amount increase between 2019 and 2020 will go to the Utah County Attorney’s Office, which will see its annual budget increase from $9.2 million to $11.9 million. This includes a $2.5 million increase for hiring additional staff and personnel, which was $8.3 million this year. There was also a $262,183 increase in charges from internal service funds. Those dollars are used to pay for services between county departments.

The attorney’s office is the agency that prosecutes criminal cases in the county and also serves as an advisor to elected officials in county government.

Non-departmental funds: $1.2 million increase (65.8%)

Funds that don’t go toward a specific department or agency but can be used for services that apply to the county as a whole will increase from $1.8 million to $3.1 million, a nearly two-thirds increase. $1.1 million will go toward materials, supplies and services while $55,000 will fund personnel.

Elections division: $1 million increase (62.2%)

The county’s elections division, which is part of the clerk/auditor’s office, will see its budget jump from $1.6 million to $2.6 million. $817,624 of this increase will be for materials, supplies and services, $115,642 for charges from internal service funds and $82,846 will go toward personnel. No new funds will go toward capital equipment.

In recent weeks, Ivie has spoken at length about the importance of funding elections services to keep elections in the county secure and efficient.

Auditor: $776,432 increase (63.8%)

Another branch of the clerk/auditor’s office, the auditing division, will see its budget increase from $1.2 million to $1.9 million. The breakdown of this increase is $582,037 for personnel, $148,195 for internal service fund charges, $46,200 for materials, supplies and services and none for capital equipment.

The county auditor is responsible for vetting county departments and services to ensure they are running efficiently and spending money appropriately.

At a Dec. 5 town hall, Ivie said that the auditor’s department has been “stretched so thin” that there are departments in the county, including the sheriff’s office, that “haven’t been audited for years.”

Inter-agency allocation: $714,637 increase (8.6%)

Inter-agency allocation, expenses that relate to an obligation of the county that is carried out with other government agencies, will increase from $8.2 million to $8.9 million. All of this money will be used for materials, supplies and services.

At a town hall held on Dec. 3, Commissioner Tanner Ainge said that, if an inter-agency allocation increase was approved, some of the money would go to the Utah County Public Defender Association.

The Daily Herald reported on Dec. 2 that public defenders in the county are “at full capacity” and have seen an increase in cases assigned to them over the years.

“I think there’s no question our caseloads are too high,” said Margaret Lindsay, a Utah County public defender.

Sheriff’s Office corrections: $542,562 increase (1.7%)

One of the roles of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office is to oversee and staff the Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork. Sheriff’s office funds that go toward the corrections bureau will increase from $31.5 million to $32 million, with $505,500 going toward overtime pay, $322,500 to medical supplies and services for inmates and $278,109 to personnel. Charges from internal service funds will decrease by $489,197.

On Dec. 3, former Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy told the county commission that the county jail has been understaffed “for years.”

Sheriff’s Office enforcement: $379,964 increase (1.8%)

The enforcement bureau of the sheriff’s office, which consists of patrol, investigations, emergency services and judicial and civil divisions, will see its budget increase from $20.9 million to $21.2 million. $665,053 of this will be charges from internal services funds, $19,462 will go toward overtime and $2,668 to personnel. Funds for materials, supplies and services will decrease by $278,039.

Human Resources: $290,848 increase (15.5%)

The Utah County Office of Human Resource Management provides resources services, including payroll, to around 1,200 county employees. Its budget will increase from $1.8 million to $2.1 million, $190,844 of which will be charges from internal service funds. An additional $71,021 will be for personnel and $28,983 for materials, supplies and services.

Public Works administration: $180,447 increase (35.9%)

The administration of the Utah County Public Works Department will see its budget increase by more than a third, from $502,590 to $683,037. Charges for internal service funds will increase by $182,207 and personnel will increase by $6,430. Funds for materials, supplies and services will decrease by $8,190.

The public works department is responsible for maintaining public parks and issuing permits for events in the county.

The biggest budget cuts

Extension: $118,363 decrease (23.3%)

Utah County Extension Services, which includes a collaboration with Utah State University to provide research-based education for Utah Valley residents, received $508,363 in line-item funds from the county’s general fund budget in 2019. It will receive $390,000 in inter-agency allocation funds next year, a budget decrease of $118,363.

Justice Court: $239,812 decrease (16.2%)

The Utah County Justice Court in Provo will see its budget decrease from $1.4 million to $1.2 million. Personnel funds will decrease by $195,067 and charges from internal service funds by $51,535. Funding for materials, supplies and services will increase by $6,790.

Utah County Fair: $156,103 decrease

While the annual Utah County Fair received $156,103 from the county’s general fund in 2019, it will receive zero of this money next year.

When discussing a possible cut to the county fair, Ivie said he enjoyed the fair personally but did not see it as an essential government service that the county should fund.

Agriculture: $11,337 decrease (15%)

The Utah County Agriculture Inspection Agency is a consumer protection agency that regulates and oversees licensing of agricultural products in the county. Its funding will decrease from $75,467 to $64,130. Funding for materials, supplies and services will be cut by $5,995 and charges from internal service funds by $5,342.


Precollegiate
Snow days and student protests: Utah County's top education stories of 2019

2019 was a year of growth and change for education systems in Utah County.

The Alpine School District and Utah Valley University continued to grow, with both opening new academic buildings.

Brigham Young University’s homecoming was full of changes, from the renaming of Bulldog Boulevard to Cougar Boulevard, the unveiling of a LEGO bricks model of the former Brigham Young Academy and the elimination of the traditional homecoming parade. That same fall, BYU announced it would be increasing its enrollment cap for the first time in decades.

The university also made its first moves on the old Provo High School property, demolishing portables and a freestanding building on the grounds.

The following are the top five education stories of 2019 at the precollegiate and university levels.

Precollegiate:

1. Provo City School District bond fails

The Provo City School District’s proposed $245 million bond failed to win the favor of voters this November.

The bond, which would have gone toward rebuilding Timpview High School, rebuilding and relocating Dixon Middle School, rebuilding Wasatch Elementary School, added an addition to Westridge Elementary School and had $5 million to fund security upgrades, lost after about 63% of counted votes were cast against it.

Different groups opposing the bond had various reasons for fighting the measure, from a desire to not see an increase in property taxes, to resistance to moving Dixon Middle School to the high cost of rebuilding Timpview High School, a project that would have included placing a new structure on piers.

The bond came years earlier than expected after rough winters caused the soil underneath part of Timpview High School to shift and for a piece of masonry to fall through the media center’s tiles. Cracks continue to appear throughout the school.

The district has not announced what it will do about rebuilding Timpview High School or if another proposed bond could appear on the 2020 ballot.

2. Alpine School District opens five new schools

It was a busy year for the ever-growing Alpine School District. In the fall, the district opened Cedar Valley High School in Eagle Mountain, Liberty Hills Elementary School in Lehi, Centennial Elementary School in Orem, Polaris High School-West in American Fork and Lake Mountain Middle School in Saratoga Springs.

Not all of the openings went smoothly. Lake Mountain Middle School partially opened in mid-September, weeks behind schedule, after construction delays continued to plague the site. Students’ first day in the building was pushed back twice, and the district utilized a hybrid mix of in-person labs and online courses to educate students until the site was declared safe for students.

3. Snowpocalpyse

It was the snow day heard ‘round the district. A snow storm hit Utah in February, leading to icy conditions for parts of the Alpine School District. The district kept schools open, leading to outrage from parents who said conditions in their neighborhoods prevented students and teachers from safely traveling to school.

In response, the Alpine School District Board of Education passed a policy in the fall that would allow for schools to be closed, have delayed starts or release students early in the case of unsafe weather. The new policy allows the district’s superintendent to close schools at the district, cluster and school levels.

4. Alpine School District faces $73M bond deficit

Additions to schools and increases to construction costs that outpaced initial estimates contributed to the Alpine School District facing a $73 million deficit between the remaining costs of building projects and funds available through its 2016 bond. The Alpine School District Board of Education met in August to discuss what to do with the deficit, which could have included cutting either a middle school or two elementary schools off the list of bond projects.

Weeks later, the district insisted that the deficit was typical of its other bond processes, and the board of education moved forward with the decision to still build a middle school and two elementary schools off the bond. The district has not announced a specific plan for how it will finance the projects.

5. Nebo School District begins constructing bond projects

2019 saw the beginning of a project to bring middle schools back to the Nebo School District.

The district began construction on Valley View Middle School in Salem, the first of a handful of schools that will be added to the district. The projects, financed off the district’s $298 million 2018 bond, will include Maple Grove Middle School in the Maple Mountain High School area, Spring Canyon Middle School in the Springville High School area, and rebuilds of Spanish Fork, Springville and Payson high schools. Construction on the two additional middle schools will begin in 2020, with the high school rebuilds beginning in 2022.

Universities:

1. Student protests spur honor code changes

Hundreds of students and alumni filled BYU’s Cougar Quad in April to protest the university’s honor code and how it is enforced.

Students agree to live by the honor code — which bans actions such as the consumption of alcohol, premarital sex, homosexual behavior and growing a beard — in order to attend. Violating the code can lead to probation, suspension and expulsion.

Students began actively protesting the code after the Instagram account Honor Code Stories began publishing anonymous accounts of students’ interactions with the Honor Code Office. While multiple student groups formed to take action on the code, Restore Code BYU, became the largest voice.

Changes to the BYU Honor Code Office came soon after. Since the protest, the university has announced that the office will begin informing students why they had been asked to go to the office and will state their reported violation before their first meeting, that students will be presumed innocent of a violation unless they accept responsibility or an investigation finds them guilty, that students will be told who reported them and that students will get an explanation of the investigation process when they first meet with the office. BYU also hired individuals to add to the office’s diversity.

Restore Honor BYU continues to meet with university administrators about potential future updates to the code.

2. UVU sees year

of the woman

For the first time in its history, a woman was at the helm at UVU.

Astrid Tuminez was officially inaugurated as the university’s seventh president in March, a handful of months after she began her official duties the previous September.

Her impact on UVU was immediately seen in January, after comments by an employee during her second day on the job led to Tuminez putting pressure on the university to quickly pass a maternity leave policy. The new policy, which Tuminez called “long overdue,” allows for six weeks of paid leave to eligible employees.

More changes came in the fall when the university began installation of five Mamava lactation pods in high-trafficked areas around campus. The pods give mothers a private, quiet space to feed infants. UVU had previously used offices as lactation spaces, but the university’s growing enrollment had placed pressure on room availability.

3. UVU growth spurs new buildings and

historic donation

UVU opened one building this year and began work on another.

The $60 million Noorda Center for the Performing Arts opened in March as part of the “Week of Dreams” that also heralded in Astrid Tuminez’s inauguration as UVU’s newest president. In true dramatic fashion, the ribbon cutting followed a skit and was performed with sabers.

The building includes 130,000 square feet of performing and teaching space, a 900-seat concert hall, a 501-seat proscenium theater with an orchestra pit, a dance hall and a choral ensemble venue.

Several months later, UVU broke ground on the $75 million Scott C. Keller Building, which will house the university’s business school.

The university celebrated another historic occasion in September when doTerra donated $17.7 million to UVU. The donation is part of a 10-year agreement between UVU and the essential oils company and will go to fund scholarships, online education, athletic programs, the Center for Constitutional Studies, the Women’s Success Center and the first five seasons of the Noorda Center for the Performing Arts.

The donation was the second-largest amount gifted to UVU at one time.

4. Latter-day Saint president says LGBTQ exclusion policy was “motivated by love” while at BYU

Russell M. Nelson, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, addressed BYU in September, being the first Latter-day Saint president to speak at the church-owned university since 2011.

Nelson’s address touched on the church’s 2015 policy that banned children of LGBTQ couples from being baptized. Nelson said the policy — and it’s 2019 reversal — was “motivated by love.”

Nelson’s address focused on the topic of truths, which included that while same-sex marriage is legalized in the United States, God defines it as between a man and a woman.

“We may not always tell people what people want to hear,” Nelson said. “Prophets are rarely popular, but we will always teach the truth.”

5. BYU sells Amanda Knight Hall

One of BYU’s oldest buildings will see new life under a new owner.

BYU announced the sale of Amanda Knight Hall to Mountain Classic Real Estate Inc., an investment group known for restoration of historical, commercial and multifamily properties, in June.

Amanda Knight Hall was built in 1939 as a women’s dormitory for BYU and later housed missionaries before becoming an overflow space.

The building was planned to be demolished and have a replica built in its place. It was placed on the market after the university faced community backlash about the decision.


Crime-and-courts
featured
'I'm not at peace with it': Birth parents of Jeremy Sorensen still wanting answers after Provo shooting

Almost seven months after Jeremy Sorensen was shot and killed outside his apartment in Provo, his birth parents living in Texas wish they had more answers to what happened.

“I don’t get it,” said his father Broderick Mitchell. “I want to know why you killed my son. I want to know what was your purpose? What was your reason?”

On June 3, investigators reported Sorensen was physically fighting an 18-year-old woman in the driveway of his apartment near 500 N. 200 East.

He was reportedly “stomping” on the woman’s head and hitting her when a 22-year-old neighbor drove up and attempted to stop the fight, according to police reports.

The neighbor pulled out a handgun and the woman ran behind him. Police determined Sorensen advanced toward them and ignored several verbal warnings until the neighbor shot him twice.

First responders administered first aid but Sorensen, 26, was pronounced dead after being transported to the Utah Valley Hospital.

In December, after reviewing the evidence, reports, and interviews surrounding the death, the Utah County Attorney’s Office decided not to file criminal charges against the neighbor who fired the shots.

“We do not believe that the facts and relevant law support filing any criminal charges in this matter,” said Utah County Attorney David Leavitt in a press release.

The Daily Herald has elected to not to identify the neighbor as charges were not filed.

Sorensen’s mother, Latisha Fontenot Proctor, said she was brokenhearted when she read about the decision online.

“It’s messed up,” she said during an emotional phone call. “I don’t know all that happened, just someone got out and shot my child.”

Celebrating the holidays has been difficult after losing her son, Proctor added. Although Sorensen spent time in foster care and was adopted by a Utah County family as a child, he had a positive relationship with his birth parents.

“Everything was good,” Mitchell said. “He came to the house, he came to chill with me and we were OK.”

He added he had a lot of questions when he heard about the shooting since he always knew Sorensen as a chill, passive person who was not easily provoked.

He also continues to wonder what would have happened if the neighbor had simply shot into the air or if the situation had been a black person shooting a white person.

“I’m not at peace with it. I don’t feel like that was right. He didn’t have the right to determine Jeremy’s life,” Mitchell said. “To me, I didn’t feel it was a legitimate decision.”

Utah’s self-defense laws justify the use of deadly force if a person “reasonably believes that force or a threat of force is necessary to defend the individual or another individual against the imminent use of unlawful force.”

A police warrant stated the woman met with Sorensen to purchase marijuana and had obtained marijuana from him in the past. She reportedly suffered a concussion and other substantial injuries from the fight.