Calendar year 2018: As seen through budget line items
Jan 07, 2019 03:28PM
By Cassie Goff
Three out of the five seats on the city council were occupied by newly elected representatives beginning in 2018. (Dan Metcalf/Cottonwood Heights)
By Cassie Goff | [email protected]
During the twelve months spanning 2018, a common thread weaved much of the city council’s interactions together. That thread was the Cottonwood Heights City budget.
Mayor & City Council
2018 began with a new mayor and two out of the four council seats having new representatives. Mayor Michael Peterson took the seat of former Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore. Councilmember Tali Bruce took over the seat of former Councilmember Michael Peterson for District 3. And Councilmember Christine Mikell took over the seat of former Councilmember Tee Tyler for District 4.
For Peterson, his first year as mayor was filled with social interaction, which was something he hadn’t quite expected. “There are more meetings and interactions; not just with residents, but with mayors, other councils, Salt Lake County, Canyons School District, and our Service Area,” he said.
Getting things done within the city “is all about partnerships and collaboration. It’s knowing who to talk to and when to talk to them. I wanted to try and hit everything this first year to be effective in building those relationships,” Peterson said.
Councilmember Mikell experienced a discrepancy in her expectations for the position as well. “Councilmember Tee Tyler warned me that it would be a lot of work, but I don’t think I realized that it would not only be physically exhausting (some meetings start one night and finish the next), but also mentally exhausting.”
Councilmember Bruce has also experienced the mental challenge of her position, as she tries to constantly gain new knowledge. “It’s like going back to school. I’ve been learning a wide variety of topics and meeting new people. It’s been a lot of fun,” she said.
Early last year, the city council asked to hold a joint meeting with the planning commission. On Jan. 16, the city council and planning commission discussed a proposed ordinance regarding ADUs (accessory dwelling units) during a regularly scheduled city council meeting. This was one of the only times the two governmental bodies held a collaborative meeting.
Over the last few months, the planning commission has been working through specific development plans and permit requests. In 2019, they will continue to work through development plans, re-zone requests and permits, during their Wednesday night meetings.
Every member of the city council is appointed to serve on a number of different committees as the city’s representative or liaison.
Mayor Peterson regularly attends the Conference of Mayors and Council of Governments (CoG), serves as the city’s liaison for the Canyon’s School District, and on the Salt Lake County’s Transportation Committee, Salt Lake County’s Cultural Facilities Committee, Central Wasatch Commission (CWC), Unified Fire Authority (UFA), and the Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention Facilities (TRCC) Committee, Wasatch Front Regional Council, and the city’s Audit Review Committee.
TRCC funds “helped the rec center pool’s changing rooms improve to be ADA accessible,” said Peterson.
Councilmember Michael Shelton serves on Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC), the city’s Audit Review Committee, IT Committee and Arts Council.
Last year, the Arts Council experienced a change in leadership. “Jannalee Hunsaker is the new chair. She’ll continue to improve the great events, opportunities and experiences of art in the community. We are appreciative of all the past chairs that have meant so much to the arts in our community. Becky Henriksen did a great job at leading,” said Shelton. The Arts Council will continue hosting many events, like the art shows, photography shows, concerts and the annual play, which will be “The Little Mermaid” this year.
Councilmember Scott Bracken leads the city’s Youth City Council, represents the city on CH2 (Cottonwood Heights Parks and Recreation Service Area Coordination Committee) attends Utah League of Cities and Towns (ULCT) meetings semi-annually, and serves as liaison for Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling (WFWR).
“The cost of recycling will continue to be a worry with the new regulations China has. (WFWR Executive Director Pam Roberts) had indicated that it may be one dollar more per month per household to continue to recycle as we have in the past and cover the extra costs. The long term costs of not recycling is more than processing what you throw away, it’s not just that narrow. What you recycle will be diverted from landfills, so there’s a cost saving there. Getting a new one started is not cheap. The idea is to pay a little more now in order to avoid paying a whole bunch later. That doesn’t make it easier if you are on a limited income,” said Bracken.
Bruce serves on the Mosquito Abatement Board, and on the city’s Emergency Management Committee, Cottonwood Heights Business Association (CHBA), and Historic Committee.
In July, the Historic Committee was finally able to publish The City Between The Canyons: A History of Cottonwood Heights, 1849-1953. “It’s been a big year for the Historic Committee with getting the book published,” said Bruce.
The committee also provided a presentation “conducted by the Utah State Historic Preservation Office and Preservation Utah, held at the Utah State Archives Building in Salt Lake City,” said Vice Chair Gayle Conger.
Mikell serves on the Jordan River Commission, the Utah League of Cities and Towns Legislative Committee (ULCT), and as liaison to the Parks, Trails, and Open Space Committee (PTOS).
At their last meeting, the PTOS finalized their mission statement, including their goals and objectives. “Committee members discussed the potential creation of subcommittees with special interests, such as creating a dog park subcommittee in the near future,” said Mikell. “I firmly believe that we will see at least one dog park in 2019.”
With one of the biggest turnovers for council members in the city’s history, the council has been, and continues to be, adjusting.
“With any new organization, we have to go through a full cycle before we are comfortable,” said Peterson. “It may take a full twelve months before everyone gets educated to what the challenges are. Things will go smoother as we go through the second cycle.”
As things begin to smooth over, the new council is beginning to find its character. “I think the personality of the new council is one progressive in thinking. It’s vibrant. We want to be transparent, open-minded and active in our thinking,” Peterson said.
All of the council members recognize that part of the council’s character is derived from having conflicting priorities and opinions. Navigating those differing viewpoints has been challenging, but rewarding.
“We all have different priorities in making sure the city is well run, while making sure tax dollars are spent wisely and judicially,” Bracken said.
“We are all unique in our thoughts and experiences, which I believe reflects our population. Diversity of opinion will lead to better outcomes for our city,” Mikell said.
EXECUTIVE & ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES
In October, former City Manager John Park retired. Tim Tingey was hired as Cottonwood Heights’s new city manager and has quickly and effortlessly adjusted into his new position.
Peterson is very “excited because being a part-time mayor means the city manager is the CEO of the city. We needed the right person,” he said. “When you hire, it’s always an opportunity to find someone that has the right fit, skill set, and can help us reach towards the desired future we want. Tim is going to be terrific for the city.”
“Tim has been effective at keeping us on task and not letting us ramble. I’m excited to see the new focus from the council,” Bruce said.
“We followed that up with the new finance director. Scott Jurges has outstanding credentials that will compliment Tim’s,” Peterson said.
Early in 2018, the city council recognized the need to evaluate the city’s budget. As discussions around the budget became more frequent and in-depth, the need to raise taxes became more relevant.
“We knew it was coming up,” Bracken said. When he was working on his master’s of public administration degree, one of his classes examined the Cottonwood Heights budget. “They projected we’d needed a tax increase in 2012–13.”
For months, members of the council and city staff worked through the city’s budget. Many residents had conversations with their representatives regarding their opinions on the budget as well.
“To Bryce (Haderlie) and (Councilmember) Shelton’s credit, they did a deep dive into the budget and found $800,000 of unnecessary budget allotment. That helped alleviate the size of the ask for property taxes,” said Bracken.
After a draft of the budget was completed, the city held an open house for residents to attend, ask questions and discuss their concerns.
“The majority of residents understood. Most accepted the rationale behind it, which was to take care of our roads and ensure the continuation of public safety,” said Peterson.
After months of deliberation, the city council voted to raise property taxes by 13.4 percent on Aug. 14. “This was not an easy decision as it affected every single person in our city,” said Mikell.
“I think we did a reasonably good job at listening to all the people and bringing together the best plan we could to address all of the issues. We could have raised taxes at a lower or higher rate, we could have done all kinds of things, but I think we found a pretty good balance. I hope that most people felt heard and appreciated even if their point of view didn’t carry the day,” said Shelton.
“Residents that had questions were in attendance; by the time we got to the vote, we had little opposition. I haven’t had a single complaint since,” said Bruce.
For the 2019–20 fiscal year, the council plans to be more involved with a strict budget process.
“Residents will see a whole new process this year,” said Peterson. “What I have proposed is that we have two working committees.” Both committees will have two council members working through issues with city staff members. “We will mesh those together, and by the time the budget gets to the council, it will be well-vetted.”
Part of that process will be looking at each department in the city more thoroughly. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the council taking a harder look at each department; we have time to do that. Every department should be treated fairly and equitably,” said Bracken.
This past year, the budget “didn’t coalesce into a solid thing in enough time that it got done in the way it should have,” Bracken said. This year, he hopes to have a more completed draft of the budget out to the public in early summer.
“There’s a thought process that taxes should go up 1 or 2 percent every year automatically. If that was proposed, I’d rather see the 1 or 2 percent per year rather than waiting years for 13 percent,” said Bracken.
As far as the budget is concerned, “we have to balance the employees who most of the money goes to and those residents that pay most of that money. Both are important. Both are worthy of attention,” said Shelton.
The Emergency Management Committee is led by Assistant Chief Paul Brenneman and Police Support Specialist Julie Sutch. “He’s done a good job at outlining the steps that need to be taken and the sequencing. We have a fantastic amateur radio club. They are a big part of it,” said Bruce.
As liaison for the city council, Bruce is excited to get drones for the committee. “When the big earthquake does hit, the streets won’t be easily navigated, so the drones can be sent out to find the needs and assess structural damage,” she says.
“Our community members should give a minute to have forethought for family plans for when the earthquake does occur. Forethought and communication can leave a family in a prepared state,” Bruce said.
Throughout the year, many residents have requested an update to the city’s website. As liaison to the IT Committee, Shelton has taken those comments to heart. “We are currently in the middle of looking to find a way to improve it,” he said.
Neither Bracken or Shelton have decided if they will be running for re-election this year. “I do think that whoever is in my seat needs to demonstrate solid, deliberative and well-thought-out leadership,” said Bracken.
This year, the council has been considering using ranked choice voting. This voting system was approved by the State of Utah under legislation that gave cities the option to pursue the possibility. Ranked choice voting will allow a voter to pick their first, second and third preference. It would keep any one candidate from winning with a low majority, while removing the necessity of a primary and secondary election. It shortens the campaign season, which would decrease the amount of “signs everywhere. There will be a lot less visual blight on residents,” said Bracken.
TOTAL GENERAL GOVERNMENT
Even though the council members work extraordinary hours for the city, they wouldn’t be able to run it alone. “The greatest resource for the city is our employees. If you don’t have good people, you won’t have good service,” said Peterson.
Currently, the city has 112 employees, which includes full and part time positions. The biggest portion of the budget (40.92 percent) is allocated for those employees.
The Cottonwood Heights Police Department (CHPD) experienced a major cut in their funding. In the 2017–18 adopted budget, they were allotted $5,936,448, while their year-end estimate was $5,841,149. For the 2018–19 proposed budget, the department was allotted $5,723,622: an almost $200,000 deduction. The most recent interaction with the CHPD budget was the council vote on Police Chief Robert Russo’s contract on Nov. 27 that saw his contract renewed for two additional years.
One of the major reasons the budget was difficult to balance last year was the fee increase from UFA, which rose from $3,623,929 in fiscal year 2017–18 to $3,920,918 in fiscal year 2018–19. The city council had to make a tough decision impacting Station 116 (8303 Wasatch Blvd.), bringing a four-person crew down to a three-person crew.
HIGHWAYS AND PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS
In 2016, the city created its own public works department. This department is primarily responsible for snow plowing and road repair and maintenance within the city’s boundaries. “The council allocated additional capital funds in its most recent budget for this department to meet the critical need for road repairs,” said Peterson.
During last year’s budget process, “There was a misperception that we were in a lot of trouble. Part of that was because we looked at our roads and decided we couldn’t put it out any longer,” said Bracken.
“Like many of Utah’s cities, Cottonwood Heights has a shortage of money for roads. As a council, we decided not to wait for someone else to give us money for our roads, because they would be at a point of despair by then,” said Mikell. “We took a bold step to increase taxes to ameliorate the situation”
Residents should notice the extra funding showing up for road maintenance in the spring time. The Fort Union Boulevard and Highland Drive intersection should be redone this year. “It’s been 12 years since that was proposed,” said Bracken.
COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
In June of 2018, an anti-idling ordinance was implemented. “It was heartening to see the diverse group of supports, from the Girl Scout Troop who came to a business meeting to moms with small children. Someone from each generation showed up to support clean air,” Mikell said. “It is our duty to ensure clean air for our residents.”
“I was excited to see the council come together for a unanimous vote for zero admissions,” said Bruce. “Hearts and minds are changing throughout the community for the environment and breathable air.”
Currently (as of publication) the council has been working with city planners to draft a sustainability policy as well as a dark skies ordinance.
The sustainability ordinance will set a goal year for the city to be 100 percent renewable energy. “It’s falling upon cities to make that commitment. It’s not happening at the national level, it’s hard to make that happen at the state level, but we can tackle it city by city. Energy providers are making significant investment in renewable energy, so we can put pressure on them to help escalate that transition,” said Bruce.
Individual residents can help the city become sustainable in a variety of different ways. Bruce recommends staying in your home long term, installing solar panels and holding council members accountable. “Go put individual pressure on the council members.”
Her personal goal for 2019 is to find one or two partners in every city within Utah to commit to sustainability.
Total Community & Economic Development
The Community and Economic Development Department was busy this past year, from working with new members of the CHBA, to working through controversial development plans, to working on making the city more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
“We’ve submitted grant applications for some fantastic things to add to our trails, sidewalks and bike lanes. Fingers crossed,” said Bruce.
Former Senior Planner Mike Johnson was also hired as the new community and economic development director in 2018.
GRAND TOTAL BUDGETED EXPENDITURES AND OTHER USES
“The most important thing to each of the councilmembers is our residents,” said Mikell.
Every council member encourages any and all residents who want to be involved and engaged to reach out.
“The thing that’s most rewarding is the people,” Shelton said, “who want to make the city better from an entirely unselfish motivation; not just better for them, better for everyone. They recognize that a community is not just about addressing individual needs, it’s about what’s best for the community, and for our city.”
“I love the phrase ‘help me understand,’” said Peterson. “It’s a phrase I respect. People have asked to be educated and we have a responsibility to give people the education they want.”
In 2019, the council hopes to develop new ways to promote resident interaction, while continuing meetings developed during 2018.
“People feel a lot more heard when they get engagement,” said Bruce, “unlike the city council meeting where they don’t get engagement.”
“…because the meetings are not the forum for that type of interaction,” said Bracken. “People just want answers to questions.” He hopes the city will host more open houses where residents can get answers to their questions.
Even if a resident doesn’t agree with the council, every council member still hopes residents will reach out.
“Sometimes people get excited. They might yell at us, but it shows that they care. They are interested in the good of the city and their personal well-beings. We want people that care,” said Shelton.
Even still, “your elected officials are always happy to have you reach out,” said Shelton. “Sometimes, people don’t want to put us out. That’s not the case. It’s great to have a resident come to me with an idea and provide information I didn’t know. Reach out however, and whenever, you can: whether you cross me in the grocery store, or find my number and call me, I’m always grateful for people who spend their time reaching out to me. I’m no way unique in that. All the elected officials feel that way.”
NET CHANGE TO BALANCE
There are many things residents can look forward to this year.
One of the biggest concerns for the city council is transparency. Residents can check out the city website, city’s newsletter (which is attached to this City Journal) and the city meetings, which are now available by streaming on either YouTube or Facebook. All of the meetings are audio recorded and posted online as well. Lastly, residents can volunteer numerous ways throughout city operations. Through volunteering, residents can learn a lot about the city’s operations.
Bruce will continue to make herself available every second Sunday for “Tali Time,” with additional quarterly meetings at City Hall on a weeknight. “Those have been well-attended; people know they can come.”
“When you let people know you are going to have an open meeting to listen to concerns, 20–30 residents will show up to share their hopes and concerns for the city, which is really exciting,” said Mikell. “I encourage people to come to our meetings and let us know what’s on their minds. Some have said that, as a city, we don’t listen to our residents. We want to improve that situation.”
Some of the discussions for this year will center around economic development, which includes some popular items like the Gravel Pit, Fort Union Boulevard, Wasatch Boulevard, the Canyon Centre and the city’s General Plan.
“City Geologist Tim Thompson is currently going over our ordinances concerning geology. He will be bringing them up to state standards, as a minimum. I’m excited to get them updated now before we get a formal application for the gravel pit,” said Bruce.
Much of this work occurs behind the scenes for many residents. “There’s always plenty going on that never directly sees the public view,” said Shelton. “Nevertheless, it’s really important work. Some plans take a long, long window of time before results are seen. We work hard on those; we are not afraid of projects that will take time and energy.”
For example, the city has been working to complete the Bonneville Shoreline Trail for years. “A proposal for funds has been submitted to Salt Lake County. The money would go towards finalizing the alignment of the trail and land acquisition. If successful, it will provide real momentum to the PTOS,” said Mikell.
Additionally, multiple members of the city council and staff (including Councilmember Bruce, Mayor Peterson, City Manager Tim Tingey, and others) have been working with the Canyon’s School District to explore options for incentivizing E-bikes among students.
“For our students, parking is limited so it would be really awesome,” Bruce said. The city would be able to put some money towards the first batch of students who commit to buying. “It would work like the rain barrel program we are talking about doing as well.”
“We hope to get a dedicated bike lane so hundreds of students can ride their bikes, skateboards or scooters to Canyon View, Butler Middle School and Brighton High School,” said Mikell. “I would love 2019 to be the year of healthy Cottonwood Heights.”