Tooele County makes cuts in face of deficit

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TOOELE COUNTY – Tooele County commissioners said no department is safe as they look for ways to close a budget deficit of over $250,000.

The county re-opened the budget this month and already laid off 23 employees in the county’s building maintenance and parks and recreation departments.

“It was the option of last resort,” County Commissioner Shawn Milne said. “Nobody in their right mind would like to say to employees that have been with us as many years as those individuals.”

For many of those employees, it’s over a decade of service to the community. Even though employees at the Deseret Peak Complex worried something like this would happen, they say it was still a shock.

“I thought I had a secure job. Apparently not,” former Equestrian Foreman Oakley Rogers said. “My wife is having to go back to work, which I didn’t want at all. It’s hard; you don’t know what to do.”

Tooele County said the numbers left them no choice. Milne said they’ve been facing a deficit for years, and with federal sequestration threatening more cutbacks, the future is uncertain.

“Because of our cash flow situation we really must concentrate and retract on our core services that we provide,” Milne said. “Sadly that means that other services that we’ve long been able to provide have to be cut back.”

Part of the financial crisis stems from where the county gets their money. Close to 80 percent of Tooele County is federally owned, meaning the county doesn’t get property tax on that land.

Currently the county gets payment in lieu of taxes, but Milne says those won’t come until July, and they may stop altogether.

“For a long time we’ve lived off of the money of other parties, and unfortunately that is dwindling,” Milne said. “We have to change the way we operate.”

In the coming days commissioners will look at all non-essential department to see what can be cut, including things like the food bank and relief services,

The Deseret Complex will likely re-open following an evaluation period, where directors determine the cost to keep the facility open with the bare minimum services.