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SALT LAKE CITY — Since taking office in 2020, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has outlined her goals and objections at the beginning of each year.
It's a process very similar to an individual's New Year resolutions, she explains, sitting in front of a painting of the city in her office's brightly lit conference room Monday morning. But as she enters her term's final year, she's learned — through plenty of circumstances — that new challenges can emerge out of seemingly nowhere that can thwart those goals.
It started with the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in public health shutdowns just two months into her term. Since then, there have been damaging natural disasters, protests against social injustice and many other issues that all have pulled city leaders away from other major big-picture ideas just to deal with them. Last year, record-high inflation, staff shortages, criminal upticks in the Ballpark neighborhood and a spike in traffic accidents all led to new challenges for city leaders.
Despite these, the mayor says the city was able to accomplish 66 of the 74 largest goals she laid out last year, the remaining eight are expected to be completed this year. The completed goals that come to her mind first include the creation of "Free Fare Feburary" in coordination with the Utah Transit Authority, the formation of a new city park ranger program and maintaining a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index.
The city also worked with UTA on a program providing transit passes to K-12 students, completed the Harrison Community Garden, secured homelessness mitigation funding from the state and completed a citywide equity plan that's set to be delivered to the city council this year — goals outlined at the start of last year. All of these are why she's willing to give Salt Lake City an "A" grade, once again, in her annual City Report Card for 2022.
"We went through an entire year of going through experiences we didn't anticipate and still got a majority of (the goals) done and will finish the rest very soon," she said.
So what goals weren't completed? The city made "some progress" but didn't complete an initial design for the planned Green Loop trail and park system that would encircle the city's downtown areas, according to the mayor's office. That design is expected to be released last this year.
The city also wasn't able to revise the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City commercial loan program to address replacement and gentrification and other issues for local businesses in 2022, though the goal is marked "in progress." It also wasn't able to complete a "comprehensive update" to water, sewer and stormwater rate and structure fees to "incentivize greater water conservation" among other reasons, per the report card.
Meanwhile, Mendenhall said the city was able to handle some of the new challenges that emerged after she released her 2022 goals. For example, the city cut about half of the officer shortage it had and opened a new police substation last year, which could help reduce crime in the Ballpark area — and other parts of the city — moving forward.
The Salt Lake City Police Department's final report from 2022 noted that citywide violent crimes remained 10.6% above the five-year average, with the largest uptick involving domestic aggravated assault — up 28%. But the figures show a decline from 2021; violent crime in 2022 dropped 2.6% and overall crime dropped about 9% from the previous year, according to the report.
A 9.7% drop in property crime from 2021 to 2022 helped overall crime fall 6% from the five-year average, too, per the report.
New goals for 2023
Mendenhall's 2022 self-evaluation comes a day before she's set to outline some of her goals for the remainder of 2023 in a State of the City address on Tuesday.
So what's in store for 2023? The mayor told KSL.com that stability for families, "more aggressive measures" to preserve the Great Salt Lake and ways to improve pedestrian safety will be among her main priorities.
Yet given all that's happened since taking office, she says there will likely be new challenges that emerge this year. Despite these types of setbacks, the mayor says she still believes setting goals is important for the city to reach new levels beyond just keeping normal operations running.
"If you don't write them down and you don't commit to them," she said, "then you're really not going to accomplish them."