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The City Journals

Voters return three incumbent councilmen to office despite concerns over possible 2020 tax hike

Jan 06, 2020 11:18AM ● By Carl Fauver

City Councilmen Brad Christopherson, Ernest Burgess and Curt Cochran (L-R) were all decisively reelected in November. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected] 

At a time when the national political scene is so hostile, many are reticent to even say who they support for president, local Taylorsville City politics appears to be about as tranquil as can be.

All three incumbent city councilmen were reelected handily, one of them without even facing a challenger.

“I have always said public safety and economic development are my top priorities,” said District 3 City Councilman Brad Christopherson. Running unopposed, he earned 1,197 votes and will continue in the post he has held since 2013.

In city council District 1, Ernest Burgess has served even longer, winning a third four-year term with nearly 64% of the vote.

Also winning — with more than 60% voter support — was Curt Cochran in the District 2 race. Cochran was elected by the other members of the Taylorsville City Council in January 2018 to fill the seat vacated by Kristie Overson when she was elected mayor. Unlike the other two, this was Cochran’s first time to be elected directly by his constituents.

“I spent a lot of time on the campaign knocking on doors after work every day and on Saturdays,” Cochran said. “You certainly never want to underestimate your opponent, and I did not. I learned a lot about people’s concerns.”

In Burgess’ case, his constituents seem to particularly oppose change. He was elected in 2011, 2015 and now 2019. Prior to Burgess, D.L. Bud Catlin held the same post for 14 years, from 1998 through 2011. Catlin passed away less than a year after leaving office in October 2012 at age 77.

Now with the elections behind them, Cochran, Burgess and Christopherson can join their city council colleagues Dan Armstrong and Meredith Harker in looking ahead.

Public safety and taxes 

The entire Taylorsville City Council has essentially spoken with one voice in recent years, saying they do not like the idea of raising property taxes but will not shy away from voting to do it if the move is necessary to maintain quality public safety.

Several Salt Lake Valley cities have recently approved sometimes dramatic tax increases, while Taylorsville has been able to avoid it. But that clock may run out in 2020.

“Reaching a consensus on a $65 million budget is difficult at best, and there was a lot of drama,” Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson said last summer in assessing her work with fellow Unified Police Board of Directors members on an officers’ pay hike. “[The approved budget increase] was a good step forward, but we need to follow through with another increase.”

After much haggling over the numbers, the UPD board approved additional officer funding in three different forms:

  • 2% Cost of living adjustment (COLA)
  • 4% Market increase
  • 2.75% Merit increase  

All sworn officers were expected to receive the cost of living and market adjustment pay hikes. However, many senior officers were not eligible for the merit increases.

 “[In 2020] we will have to be serious about looking at a tax increase,” the mayor said at the time. “We need to remember we have amazing officers who risk their lives for us every day. Tax increases are uncomfortable to discuss, but if it is for public safety, as this would be, I think most people will understand why it is necessary.”

Months before the UPD board approved the increases, Christopherson led the charge on the council to have the body pass a resolution endorsing their police department. In speaking about UPD officers at the time, he said, “It would be unconscionable to tell them we have no additional money. If we need to do a tax increase, I would be supportive of that.”

In addition to the little bit of unincorporated Salt Lake County that still remains, Unified Police now serves six communities: Holladay, Kearns, Magna, Midvale, Millcreek and Taylorsville. Department officials are now reviewing their IT, fleet and dispatch divisions to see if budget cuts are possible to create more funding for officer pay.

Overson recently told the council the UPD Board of Directors is expected to again take up the topic of pay increases this month. Another hefty hike for police officers could be the final straw forcing a property tax increase proposal.

“[The UPD board] is not yet talking specific numbers [for a second officer pay increase, in as many years],” she said. “But I will be advocating an increase that is likely to require a property tax increase in Taylorsville. The City Council has told me they support that. We will analyze police salaries in neighboring cities. We know we need UPD pay to be more competitive.”   

Economic development

The most effective way to stave off property tax increases is to grow city revenues in other areas. The Taylorsville City Council continues to work to that end by concentrating efforts on economic development.

Last spring, the city enjoyed an out-of-the-blue shot in the arm when a new national survey — conducted by telecommunication giant Verizon Wireless — christened Taylorsville as the eighth “best small city across America,” in which to start a small business.

Ironically, while Taylorsville ranked eighth overall, it was still only fourth best in the state:

  1. Logan, Utah
  2. Sarasota, Florida
  3. Coral Gables, Florida 
  4. South Jordan, Utah
  5. Doral, Florida
  6. Cheyenne, Wyoming
  7. Lehi, Utah
  8. Taylorsville, Utah
  9. Missoula, Montana
  10. Corvallis, Oregon

“It has been so encouraging to see our city economy bounce back, following the recession,” Overson said at the time. “The Verizon research is wonderful.”

Soon after that top 10 list appeared, Overson and Economic & Community Development Director Wayne Harper hosted the “Taylorsville 2020 Summit” at the Regal Theaters.   

“We [had] hosted a couple of business social gatherings but thought it would be a good idea to offer a more thorough view of what Taylorsville has to offer,” Overson said. “We wanted to get developers, business owners, brokers and others all together to showcase the city. We want them to see our shopping districts and get a vision of how they might serve their needs.”

Harper said the planned 90-minute event ran closer to two hours, as attendees networked and discussed the city’s future.

“I know a couple of other cities have hosted these kinds of summits in recent years, like Provo, Sandy and Ogden,” he said. “We sent out 350 invites, and at least 90 people attended. A handful were here from Illinois, Maryland and Florida. We wanted to get property owners and investors together to discuss what we are doing to energize the city.”

Among those impressed with the Taylorsville 2020 Summit was city Planning Commission Chairwoman Anna Barbieri, who also serves on the city Economic Development Committee.

“The city really put together a nice program, designed to get developers and business owners to think outside the box,” she said. “It gave people a good look at future plans for the city. I really thought it went well. I know I made some key contacts.” 

Given the success of last summer’s event, Overson said something similar will follow in 2020, though the details have not yet been firmed up.

“We sparked interest with developers and landowners during the summit,” she said. “What we do this year, I’m not yet sure. But it is about building relationships. It takes time. We’re helping people understand; we are business friendly.”

Redwood Road beautification

Perhaps the most visible changes to the Taylorsville landscape coming in 2020 will be improvements along both sides of Redwood Road from 4100 to 5400 South. To move that massive planned project along, nearly a year ago the city council voted unanimously to spend $835,000.

That’s how much local taxpayers had to pay, for the city to receive more than 15 times that much in federal tax funding for the facelift.

“The city was approved to receive just under 13 million federal dollars through the Wasatch Front Regional Council,” City Administrator John Taylor said. “But to receive that funding, the city council had to approve a 6.6% match, or $835,000.” 

This beautification project comes several years after a nearly identical effort was completed on the much shorter stretch of Redwood Road from 5400 South to the belt route (I-215) overpass.

“It has been a long time since Phase 1 [of the Redwood Road beautification project] was completed, and we are pleased to finally be able to move ahead with this second phase,” Overson said. “Mostly we want to do away with the visual clutter. This will include burying utility lines. Beautification walls will also be built along parts of the road. We want to give Redwood a more attractive, uniform look.” 

“This will give Redwood Road better curb appeal and better lighting,” Council Chairman Dan Armstrong added. “It should be very positive, and I’m glad to see it finally happening.”

“If it was up to [Taylorsville City] alone, the work would already be underway,” Overson said of the timing on the project. “Redwood Road is a state highway, so we have other partners and some government red tape to cut through. But the work should begin in 2020.” 

Like all Wasatch Front municipalities, Taylorsville faced its share of challenges in 2019 and undoubtedly will do so again in this new year and decade. But voters in three of the city’s five council district said they like the people currently doing their bidding.

The council seats filled by Dan Armstrong and Meredith Harker are next on the ballot in 22 months. They are not ready to commit to running again just yet, but neither is ruling it out. So, stability on the Taylorsville City Council could reign for several more years.