This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
There was a time, nearly 20 years ago, when it seemed imperative for Salt Lake County to provide people in lower-income communities with access to computers to lessen the digital divide between rich and poor.
But the pace of technological change accelerated by the emergence of the Internet and smartphones has changed the digital landscape, and computer access is nearly universal. So the county is looking to do away with its "Community Access to Technology" program, known in the bureaucratic vernacular as CAT Lab, and shift its $273,000 in funding to a new senior center in Midvale.
"The need for CAT Labs has decreased over time," county Human Services Director Lori Bays told the County Council recently in recommending the program's dissolution.
"People who went there are [now] using computers at county and city libraries. Wireless access points are at facilities everywhere, from county buildings to coffee shops," she added, noting that four existing labs (down from 10 originally) at the Central City, Copperview, Northwest and Redwood recreation centers were used only 24 percent of the time they were available to the public last year.
Computer-use classes offered at those centers attracted only 3.3 students on average, Bays noted, saying the 27,600 hours spent in CAT Labs by 3,500 people last year did not justify continuing the program.
So in line with Mayor Ben McAdams' mantra to abandon programs that do not conform to modern practices, Bays said the administration wants to kill the CAT Labs later this month when the council conducts its midyear budget review. McAdams is scheduled to present his proposed changes to the council Tuesday.
Bays would like to transfer the program's $273,000 and 2.75 full-time positions to the Midvale Senior Center, which opens in July.
The transferred positions would be used for a receptionist, an office specialist and a custodian, while the funding would be spent on senior-center operations, mostly the cost of buying food.
This is the second program Bays has recommended for elimination. She previously suggested the county replace its Day Reporting Center with a system that places more emphasis on risk assessments of misdemeanor offenders.
Roger Ranney, who managed the CAT program for the past five years, said the labs still have value even if he is reluctantly resigned to accepting their closure.
"We still have an average of 500 discreet accounts of people using those labs every month. Those numbers have trended downward, but there's still a lot of people using the labs. They'll be missing out when it closes," he said, describing many of the users as people preparing résumés, doing job searches and submitting applications.
Ranney said the biggest void will be left by the end of classes that provided training to adults in computer basics and helped boost children's literacy. The program's demise also will impact the VITA program, whose volunteers often used the labs to help low-income people prepare tax returns.
While the County Council will not act on the CAT Labs proposal until later this month, members seemed receptive to its departure.
"Thanks for identifying a county program that no longer serves its purpose for elimination," said Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove.
The council also learned that county Library System Director Jim Cooper wants to reorganize his department to reflect technological advances.
Cooper projected there will be minimal financial impact from instituting changes that will replace clerical job descriptions with more paraprofessional positions, increase the centralized selection of library materials, place an emphasis on early learning and boost the number of library activities involving the community.
Changes are needed, he said, because physical visits to county libraries are up 26 percent (partly because the county has added six facilities in recent years) and the number of materials circulated annually is up to nearly 16 million.
Two women have been selected to lead Salt Lake County's criminal-justice services division.
Mayor Ben McAdams has picked Kele Griffone as division director and Jessica Thayer as associate director.
Formerly directed by the now-retired Gary Dalton, the division provides pretrial, post-trial and treatment programs to those 18 or older who have been referred by the district or justice courts, such as drug court, a domestic-violence program, probation services and pretrial screening and release.
Griffone has been the division's acting director since January. She has more than 22 years of government experience, including work as a court administrator and as the associate director of aging and adult services.
Thayer has more than 17 years of criminal-justice experience as a case manager, pre-sentence writer and as a supervisor of probation and pretrial teams.