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The City Journals

Riverton sidesteps potential negative fallout from 2019 legislative session

May 03, 2019 10:13AM ● By Mariden Williams

City attorney Ryan Carter and city manager Konrad Hildebrandt (pictured left to right) noticed some fishy wording in Salt Lake County’s contracts, helping avert some potentially pricy consequences. (Mariden Williams/City Journals)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

Utah’s 2019 legislative session drew to a close in Marh, and the bill that attracted the most attention from Riverton and other cities in the southwest valley might be Senate Bill 34. This bill focuses on affordable housing modifications—specifically on penalizing cities who don’t have what the state judges to be “enough” affordable housing, by dramatically docking their transportation funds.

“Going into the session, the legislators had a feeling that the cities in this part of the valley weren’t doing enough to accommodate density and affordable housing,” said Rob Jolley, one of Riverton’s lobbyists. But penalizing road funds is exactly the wrong thing to do to encourage a higher population density, because the main reason cities don’t want higher density is that the existing roads can’t handle the traffic from the population already there.

“We need to get the infrastructure first, because we already have plenty of density. More than the rest of the valley. Toward the end of the session, that really started to sink in with the legislators, and it really changed the dynamic,” said Jolley. 

Jolley credited that change of mindset to efforts led by Riverton’s Mayor Trent Staggs, as well as the mayors of West Jordan, South Jordan, Herriman, Copperton, and Bluffdale, but said this issue would require further monitoring. There will likely be more discussion next year.

Another notable event in 2019’s legislative session was the complete reworking of Senate Bill 77, which adjusted tax increment rates and clarified Utah’s Community Reinvestment Agency Act. The original wording of the Community Reinvestment Agency Act caused a lot of confusion among cities, and many questioned who, if anyone, actually understood the thing.

“The statute was very complicated, and Salt Lake County was the only one who could figure it out,” said Jolley. “We were able to fix that and make the formula a lot more streamlined, a lot easier to interpret, but also it made it so that community reinvestment agencies were going to continue to receive the type of increment that was envisioned as they grow.” 

That new relative clarity will help cities make sure that there aren’t any wolves hiding in the fuzzy, impenetrable sheep’s clothing of the act’s dense legal jargon. That’s important, because five months ago, Riverton’s City Manager Konrad Hildebrandt and City Attorney Ryan Carter noticed Salt Lake County had slipped a clause into their contracts “agreeing to give increment to reinvestment areas that basically meant that the amount of increment that the county would participate with, would be reduced by the amount that the city would receive in county transportation dollars.”

Transportation dollars are allocated to cities by the state legislature—or at least, they’re supposed to be.

“The state transportation dollars that we have received over the years, recently is being routed through Salt Lake County’s administrators, getting it out of the cities. When it lands in their accounts, it becomes their funding, legally speaking,” said Carter. “Then they (the county) can come back later and say, ‘We’ve given you transportation funding. It was earmarked by the legislature, but we’re the ones that gave it to you. It was ours when we gave it to you. So we’re now going to reduce your tax income.’” 

“That’s a big deal,” said Mayor Trent Staggs. “Not only would the county proportionally decrease the tax increment they would have given” to Riverton’s development area—it would also have some serious ramifications for the new CenterCal Mountain View Village shopping center. Riverton officials were counting on receiving that funding from the county. “If they interpreted that way, we could have been left having to pony up.”

“They hadn’t tried to take funds away from the city yet, but we were concerned that they could,” said Jolley. Jolley worked with Sen. Wayne Harper to put an amendment in Senate Bill 98 that would force the county to consider the reinvestment increment and the transportation dollars independently from one another. 

“Interestingly, about the only thing that was left in Senator Harper’s bill at the very end was our amendment,” Jolley remarked.

 “So on the CenterCal project, we’re protected,” said Councilmember Sheldon Stewart.