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The City Journals

Residents create committee to protest raises and stormwater fee

May 02, 2022 08:44PM ● By Bill Hardesty

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

Recent actions by the South Salt Lake City Council are now under the residential microscope.

On Feb. 23, the council voted to remove the Elected Officials Compensation Commission ordinance on a 6-1 vote. Shane Siwik, District 5, was the only opposing vote. In the same meeting, the council looked at the issue of the mayor's compensation. The council settled on around $130,000 annually, which is a 37% increase. This is the first pay increase for the mayor in 11 years. Then, during the March 9 council meeting, the council took up the question of their own compensation. They settled on $1,452.58 per month ($17,430.96 annually), a 35% increase. The council also has not received a pay increase in 11 years. The ordinance was moved to the next meeting on a 6-1 vote. In addition, a public hearing on the mayor's and council members' compensation was set for March 23.

During the March 23 public hearing, no one came forward nor emailed a message to read. The council approved both raises on a 6-1 vote.

The council approved a $6 per month residential storm water utility fee during the same meeting. Again, the approval was on a 6-1 vote. The notion of having a stormwater fee dates back a few years.

Both actions—the compensation increase and the stormwater utility fee—has caught the ire of some residents who want to put the approval or denial on the November ballot.

"When elected officials no longer take their oaths or the trust that citizens vest in them seriously; when our policymakers abandon their fiduciary responsibility and charge forward into corruption for personal gain, then that abdicated responsibility lies on well-informed and responsible citizens. The recent actions taken by our policymakers in South Salt Lake now deem it necessary for citizens to stand up for our city," said Timothy Webb, the referendum sponsor. “I'm bullish on South Salt Lake, but the time to stand by, roll our eyes, and shrug our shoulders at our leaders' misdeeds has passed….We don't have to keep accepting this as the only way South Salt Lake can be governed. South Salt Lake deserves better. We have a voice in this."

When asked, the city replied, “No comment from Mayor Wood at this time.”

See articles in the March and April South Salt Lake City Journal for a detailed background.

Quick civic lesson

The referendum creation and process are dictated by state law (Code 20A-7-6). Five residents must submit a referendum request by 5 p.m. within seven days after the day on which the local law was passed. Within three days, the city clerk must give the request to the director of finance. The director "together with legal counsel, shall prepare an unbiased, good faith estimate of the fiscal and legal impact of repealing the law."

After 20 calendar days the clerk gives the request to the Finance Department, the director will submit the initial fiscal impact estimate to the city clerk and the first three sponsors named on the request.

In addition, 20 days after the application is filed, the city attorney must "determine whether the proposed referendum is legally referable to voters" and notify the first three application sponsors. If the application is deemed not referable to the voters, sponsors have 10 days to challenge the decision by appealing to the Utah Supreme Court requesting an extraordinary writ. A writ is a form of written command in the name of the court to act, abstain from acting in some way. In this case, it is an extraordinary writ because the referendum sponsors are asking the court to exercise unusual or discretionary power.

Suppose the Supreme Court rules the referendum is legally referable to voters. In that case, the clerk has five days to provide a copy of the referendum petition and a signature list to the sponsors. In this case, the decision is final, and no other appeals are possible.

The number of required signatures depends on the size of the city.

Referendum No. 2022-06

This referendum petition application focuses on the raises given to SSL elected officials.

"This is all about the clear conflict of interest that the council and mayor didn't even attempt to hide. They blatantly bypassed the oversight mechanism and went full speed into a mind-blowing corrupt bargain to citizens," Webb said. "To be clear, people deserve raises to keep up with the cost of living, etc. There is a right way to do this, but instead our elected officials decided to go the expedient and corrupt route which is the real issue here."

The application reads in part, "Though fair compensation of civil servants is a critical component of a successful government, we aim to exercise our rights as citizens to the fullest extent when such issues are brought to question. Moreover, we seek to provide the necessary oversight, which we believe is being ignored. This initiative is the right thing for the citizens of the City of South Salt Lake."

Webb stated that with the raise, Mayor Wood is paid five times the compensation for the mayor of Sandy on a per-resident basis.

In a letter dated April 5, City Attorney Joshua Collins informed the first three sponsors—Nathan Campbell, Susan Bowden, and Christian Bellina—that the application was not referable to voters because the application referred to two ordinances. In this case, the action reference in the application focused on section 2.04.065 and section 2.08.075 of the city code. State code 20A-7-602-7(2)(b) says, "For a local law other than a land use law, a proposed referendum is legally referable to voters unless:the proposed referendum challenges more than one law passed by the local legislative body." Therefore, the application was determined not to be referable to voters based on state code.

"The South Salt Lake City Attorney's denial on a technicality was incorrect, and the sponsors will continue to pursue the referendum with all the recourse options available. These issues are too important for the citizens to be intimidated into submission," Webb said.

On April 18, the referendum sponsors filed recourse with the Utah Supreme Court. A decision is pending.

"The sponsors and the growing support for the referendum are working to bring this decision to the people and out of the mayor and city council's self-serving hands," Webb said.

Referendum No. 2022-05

The referendum application refers to the stormwater utility fee passed by the city council. Sponsors call the action "A general tax increase dressed in a storm drain fee."

"The stormwater fee is another example of the mayor and the council trying to nickel and dime the city into a corner claiming a dire need. This is an accounting trick to raise more taxes on residents," Webb said.

The ordinance passed reads in part, "the City Council finds that, upon a fee study conducted by a qualified engineering consultant, other municipalities around the City charge between $10.26 per month and $6 per month, per equivalent residential unit, to fund the operation and maintenance of a storm drainage system as well as needed capital improvement projects associated with the storm drainage…to enact a $6 per month fee per equivalent residential unit for stormwater management is in the best interest of the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of South Salt Lake City."

The council and city administration see the stormwater utility fee as a way to generate dedicated funds to improve and maintain an old system and free up general budget dollars for other needed projects.

Backers of the referendum see it differently. They see an additional $6 a month tax while not providing any other tax relief. In addition, they say the city has been paying for stormwater maintenance out of general funds, and there is no need for additional funds.

POET

Sponsors and backers of the referendum efforts have created a Political Action Committee (PAC) called POET (Promising Oversight, Equity and Transparency).

According to their website, they "are dedicated to shining light on the actions of our local government that citizens should be aware of, bringing ballot measures and not allowing the narrative and history to be written by the PR consultants of the city."

The website has a way to donate to their cause and ways to get involved: portutah.org.