Ranked-Choice Voting in Utah

Election Day is November 6th. As a reminder, Utah County conducts a vote-by-mail election. If you did not receive a ballot, you can vote in person on Election Day at the Cedar Hills City offices between the hours of 7:00 am and 8:00 pm. If you aren’t registered to vote, you can register on the day of the election and vote at the city offices. Also, if you prefer to drop your ballot off instead of mailing it, the city does have a secure ballot box where ballots can be submitted. If you are interested in researching the candidates and various propositions and amendments, please visit vote.utah.gov.

While on the subject of voting, this past legislative session the Utah State Legislature passed HB35, which is a pilot program allowing cities to conduct nonpartisan races using ranked-choice voting. In our October City Council meeting, a presentation was given showing how this would work. In a ranked-choice election, all candidates for each city office would be listed on the ballot and voters would rank them in order of preference. Candidates receiving more than 50% of the first choice votes would be elected. If there is no candidate who receives 50% in the first round, or if there are multiple open seats, the lowest vote getter would be eliminated and the ballots would be counted again based on the second choice, then third choice, continuing on until winners are selected based on receiving 50% or more of the votes. The main benefit to the city is that there is a cost savings as it eliminates the need for a primary election. There are a handful of large cities across the country now voting this way, however, it is a new concept in Utah. Any city wishing to participate in the pilot program next year has to notify the Lt. Governor’s Office by the end of this year. For a two-minute video showing how this works, please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53z9feUiqdg.

I’m interested in hearing how residents feel about this option. Feel free to leave a message here or email me at jrees@cedarhills.org.

 

Change to Public Safety Services

In the summer of 2017, the city gave notice to Lone Peak Public Safety District (our current provider for fire services) and American Fork Police Department (our current provider for police services) that we were going out to bid for public safety services to research all options available to our city. This was not to suggest that we were unhappy with the service provided by either entity, but as our public safety expenses have been steadily increasing while our revenues are not, we felt it was important to determine what options were available to us, just as we’ve done with other service contracts.

We received bids to provide both fire and police services from Lone Peak Public Safety, American Fork, and Pleasant Grove, and we received a bid from Utah County to provide police services only. As part of this process, we interviewed each entity individually, analyzed our call volumes for police and fire, and forecasted our expected budget revenues for the next several years. At the September 18th City Council meeting, the decision was made to go with American Fork for both fire and police services, which will go into effect July 1, 2019. At that time they will continue with our existing police services and will staff our current fire station with fire and EMS personnel. At some point, American Fork will be building a new fire station on the land south of Lone Peak and across from our commercial zone. While we expect that response times to our city from that new facility will continue to be within industry standards, American Fork is willing to amend our agreement to provide some staffing at our current station if we determine that is needed.

We wish to express our appreciation to those serving in the police and fire departments for the service they have provided to our community over the past 20 years. This decision was not an easy decision as all of the entities who submitted a proposal consist of highly qualified and experienced individuals who are dedicated to protecting the communities they serve. Our goal is to continue to provide high-quality service while also planning for our future needs with the understanding that our city will not be experiencing much new growth.

Summary of the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget

In June the City Council approved the certified property tax rate provided by Utah County. This tax rate is set by the county to provide the same amount of property tax revenue to the city as was collected in the previous year, excluding revenue generated by new growth. Because property values increased overall, the tax rate for Cedar Hills went down from .002024 to .001923.

Approximately 19% of each household’s overall property tax assessment goes to the city. The city has no control over the remaining amount paid to other entities such as the school district or the county. Of all the General Fund tax revenue, 27.7% comes from property tax, 50.7% comes from sales tax, and the remaining comes from other tax sources.

Other sources of revenue to the city come in the form of user fees, charges for services, and intergovernmental revenue. Examples of user-specific fees and services include fees for licenses and permits, utility fees, garbage and recycling fees, recreation fees, and passport fees. Intergovernmental revenue includes money received from the State Liquor Tax Allotment and Class C Road funds.

The city’s budget consists of the General Fund; Golf Fund; Class C Road Fund; Golf Debt Service Fund; Capital Projects Fund; Water, Sewer & Storm Drain Fund; and Motor Pool Fund. The budget, which can be found on the city’s website, provides detailed information on the revenue and expenses for each fund. The following pie charts provide a summary of the sources of revenue and the expenses for each fund.

General Fund

Golf Fund

Class C Road Fund

Golf Debt Service Fund

Capital Projects Fund

Water, Sewer, and Storm Drain Fund

Motor Pool Fund

The budget process lasts for several months with staff and officials analyzing every fund. City staff and officials work together to ensure that taxes and fees are being assessed and used judiciously and strive to provide quality services for residents. I appreciate the time and effort that is put into this process by all involved, and for the resident feedback, which helps guide decisions made by the City Council.

 

 

Updated Code Related to Accessory Dwelling Units

Earlier this year the State Legislature passed a new law, which mandates that cities plan for moderate income housing growth by adopting a moderate income housing plan. Cities are also now required to report on and publish data indicating the number of housing units in the city that qualify as low-income and moderate-income. While Cedar Hills does not have any housing that would qualify as low-income, there are some accessory apartments that will qualify as moderate-income housing. In order to comply with this new legislation, the City Council recently approved an updated ordinance related to basement apartments, or accessory dwelling units (ADU’s). In addition to complying with state legislation, the new ordinance makes it easier for residents to own and operate ADU’s within Cedar Hills. Some of the updates include:

  • A permit and certificate of occupancy are required, but registration fees will only be assessed once per homeowner. Annual fees will no longer be required.
  • Impact fees will no longer be assessed.
  • Addresses for the main home and the ADU will be the same, however, the ADU will be listed with the city as the “B” unit so that first responders can be made aware of ADU’s and respond to the appropriate entrance in case of an emergency.
  • Existing ADU’s that have not yet been registered with the city may qualify for some exceptions to the updated code.
  • The newly adopted code related to accessory apartments may be found in Cedar Hills City Code §10-5-32

While we want to make the process of building and registering an ADU easier, homeowners who wish to have an ADU will still be required to meet building code requirements as it relates to safety (smoke detectors, safe electrical and plumbing, handrails, etc.,) and ordinances that apply to single-family homes, such as off-street parking, will also apply to ADU’s. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the updated ordinance or have questions on how to register an ADU, please contact the city offices at 801-785-9668.

Changes in the Recycling Industry Leading to Fee Changes

The recycling industry is struggling in the United States. According to a recent bulletin provided by Waste Management, until this year almost 30% of all recyclables from around the world were shipped to China, including 50% of the world’s recyclable mixed paper and plastics. China has implemented new aggressive environmental goals, which include establishing their own recycling programs, and on January 1st banned all mixed paper and mixed plastic imports. Additionally, due to the cost associated with separating contaminated materials from recyclable items, on March 1st China began enforcing a new 0.5% contamination limit on imported recyclables. Then on May 3rd China announced it had suspended inspections for all recyclables from the U.S., and because all loads must be inspected and certified, this means that no recyclables will ship to China from the U.S. for at least a month.

Due to these issues and the cost of separating contaminated items that have been placed in recycling bins, Waste Management has increased rates for recycling toters. The rate for the first toter per household will increase from $4.79/month to $6.90/month and the rate for subsequent toters per household will increase from $2.24/month to $5.00/month. These increases are still less than paying for a second garbage container, which is $10.99/month.

While customers have no control over China’s new policies, we can help improve domestic demand by reducing the number of contaminated items being placed in recycling toters. Click here to see the most common contaminants. Waste Management has created a number of educational materials on how to best use the recycling program and we will be sharing those with residents over the next several weeks, but wanted residents to be aware of the associated rate increases that will be coming in July. For more information on the recycling industry and for helpful materials on how to recycle, please visit recycleoftenrecycleright.com.

 

Settlement Reached on Land in Commercial Zone

I am happy to announce that on May 1, 2018, the City Council approved a settlement agreement to resolve a lawsuit with developer Cedar Hills Farmland, LLC and the property owner regarding the development of land located in the city’s commercial zone just south of Walmart. This piece of land has been in a litigation status since 2015 and the settlement will allow all parties to be fully released from all claims in connection with the development of the property.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the parties agree in concept to a proposal submitted by the developer to develop the property as a single-family planned unit development with up to 80 single family lots, 14,000 square feet of open space, and a 7,000 square foot commercial pad with associated parking. As part of the agreement, the city will consider formal action approving a new zoning district to accommodate the development, a development agreement, and preliminary and final subdivision plats. These items will be on a future agenda for the Planning Commission and City Council.

Background

In 2013 Mr. Doug Young and representatives of the Smart family approached the city regarding the development of 11 acres owned by the Smart family and located in the city’s commercial zone. The original presentation included a five-story congregate care facility (55+ housing) on the Smart property and commercial/retail businesses located on the nine acres owned by the city, which is located on North County Blvd south of Harts. After several meetings with staff, Planning Commission, and elected officials to discuss the allowed uses in the zone, the application submitted by Mr. Young was to develop only the 11 acres of property owned by the Smarts and included a 291-unit 3-story congregate care facility and three commercial buildings.

During the discussions that occurred before and after Mr. Young submitted his application, a concern that was frequently raised was whether the congregate care facility was allowed per city code. The code stated that in the mixed-use office/retail zone, which included most of the Smart property, residential was only allowed if it was less than 50% of the building, was ancillary to retail, and was located on the upper levels of the building, not the main level. The only exception to this was assisted living facilities, which did not need to have a commercial component. As Mr. Young’s congregate care facility did not have any retail/commercial located in it, and as congregate care was not an allowed use in the zone, his proposal did not comply with city code.

Mr. Young indicated that he was willing to change his facility to be assisted living instead of congregate care, however, the feedback he was receiving from some members of the community was that congregate care was preferred over assisted living. For uses that are not expressly mentioned in city code, the City Council can make a determination on whether a project is “substantially similar” to something that is allowed or disallowed in code. On December 2, 2014, Mr. Young’s representative approached the Council and asked them to decide whether the congregate care facility being proposed could be considered substantially similar to an assisted living center, which is allowed in the mixed-use office/retail zone. After much debate, the Council voted 3-2 to allow congregate care to be treated as assisted living.

Once that decision was made, the Council was required by law to approve the congregate care facility but could impose conditions in order to address any adverse impacts the development would have on the community. The preliminary plans submitted by the developer included 291 housing units in the congregate care facility and three commercial buildings in the retail portion of the land. The layout presented is below.

Based on studies provided by the developer and performed at the request of the city, the Council approved the project on November 17, 2015 subject to fourteen conditions, which the city later reduced to ten. These conditions were all based on city code and included:

  1. Limiting the project to no more than 165 units;
  2. Requiring the congregate care facility to provide on-site services such as meals, healthcare, fitness classes, and social activities so that the facility was operating similarly to an assisted living center;
  3. Requiring 1.4 parking stalls per residential unit;
  4. Prohibiting outdoor overnight parking in areas adjacent to existing single-family homes, with covered parking provided in those areas;
  5. Requiring landscaping and open areas with linked pedestrian corridors designed to promote pedestrian activity and a walkable area;
  6. Constructing of the development in phases that include both commercial and residential components in order to keep with the intent of the commercial zone;
  7. Reducing the size and scale of the building to comply with the maximum density of 165 units;
  8. Requiring that each unit be occupied by at least one resident who is 55 years of age or older and not allowing for residents younger than 25 years of age;
  9. Requiring parking lights adjacent to single-family homes be low to the ground in bollards rather than on light poles; and
  10. Final approval of the project being made by the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Mr. Young appealed all conditions stating they were illegal and not supported. As part of the appeal, Mr. Young and the city agreed to both submit arguments to the State Land Use Ombudsman for an opinion. While the opinion of the Land Use Ombudsman is not legally binding, the opinions of this office closely align with what a court will eventually decide. Additionally, both parties must agree that once the Ombudsman provides an opinion and either party decides to go to court, the losing party must pay attorney’s fees for both parties.

On December 28, 2017, the Land Use Ombudsman provided an advisory opinion. The only conditions upheld were the requirement of 1.4 parking stalls, the requirement to have covered parking adjacent to single-family homes, and the requirement for bollard lighting instead of pole lighting in parking areas adjacent to single-family homes. All other conditions were dismissed as unlawful and unenforceable.

Settlement

After the Ombudsman’s opinion was released, Mr. Young requested a meeting with the city’s attorney to discuss a possible settlement. In the end, the settlement agreed on by the City Council and Mr. Young was for a residential community consisting of 80 single-family homes, 14,000 square feet of open space, and a 7,000 square foot commercial building. While this changes the use of that land from commercial to residential, the city agreed to the settlement for several reasons.

  1. Based on the Ombudsman’s opinion, the city’s chances of prevailing in court on all 10 conditions were slim. Whether the city was required to approve the 291-unit congregate care facility or agreed to the settlement, the land would be used for residential purposes, not commercial.
  2. Throughout this process, the number one concern heard from residents was related to the density of the project. The settlement lowered the number of housing units from 291 to 80.
  3. The original project was for a large facility of leased units as a senior apartment complex. The new agreement will be homes that are purchased, not leased.
  4. The layout and use of the land with the settlement matches the adjacent residential area, whereas the 291-unit congregate care facility would be very dense and would be the tallest building in the city. The proposed zone change under the settlement agreement better fits with the rest of the community and the surrounding area.

Next Steps

The developer of the project will go through the subdivision approval process as outlined in city code, which means they will submit plans to the Planning Commission and the City Council for review. Additionally, the rezoning of this land for residential use will go to the Planning Commission and City Council. The concept plans provided by the developer at this point are provided below, though these plans could change as it goes through the approval process. However, the number of houses will not exceed 80 and the size of the commercial building will remain the same. Additionally, this will be an HOA community and the intent of the developer is to market it as a 55+ HOA.

While the original intent of this land was to serve as a commercial district for providing residents with retail goods and services, we are pleased that the resolution consists of 80 individually-owned homes instead of the original proposal of a 291-unit senior residential facility with leased units. I appreciate the feedback we received from residents throughout this process, and the help of our staff and legal team to finalize an agreement that satisfied all parties. We look forward to welcoming a new neighborhood into our community and adding some additional retail space to our commercial zone.

Public Safety Services

Over the next few months, the city will be soliciting bids for public safety services. We currently receive our police services through a contract with American Fork Police Department and our fire and EMS services through an interlocal agreement with Lone Peak Public Safety, which also provides services to Alpine and Highland. Because our contract with American Fork Police will expire in 2019, last year the City Council decided it would be best to go through a bid process for our public safety services to research all options available to our city. This is not to suggest that we are unhappy with either American Fork or Lone Peak. We receive exceptional service from both entities and appreciate the relationships we have built with those who serve our community.

Because of our location, we are in a unique situation in that we have a few neighboring cities who have expressed interest in partnering with our city for public safety services. In addition to neighboring cities, we also have the option of utilizing the county for fire and/or police. Other cities of our size may only have one or two options available to them, so we are fortunate that we have multiple options, all of which are highly qualified.

Public safety is our largest General Fund expense and we are anticipating an increase in both fire and police services. With the growth that has come to our area, there has been an increase in the number of calls to dispatch for public safety services. As we review bids the City Council will be discussing items such as what level of a police presence we need, and what levels of staffing we want for fire and EMS in our city.

While the impact on our budget matters, we will be looking at several other factors as we go through each bid. For example, as we look at police services, one thing to keep in mind is that we have experienced an increase in the number of calls for police services over the past few years.

A significant portion of those calls is responding to issues related to theft and other issues in our commercial area. We also saw an increase in property crimes in 2017, many of which were related to open vehicles or garages. While our police department is proactively analyzing data each month to help us identify trends and issues in order to reduce crimes of opportunity, we may wish to explore increasing patrols or having an officer stationed in our public safety building. Adding more patrols and/or increasing the police presence in our city increases our cost, but might be something worth considering, especially with the growth that is coming to our area around North County Blvd. In addition to patrols and presence, we will also be looking at other services that the police department provides, such as community outreach programs, victim’s advocate services, and other resources that are important to members of our community. Our budget for police services for the fiscal year 2018 is $420,395.

When it comes to fire and EMS services, response time is essential. When we formed the Lone Peak Public Safety District with Alpine and Highland (I’ll refer to it as LPPSD or the District), the plan was for each city to have a fully-staffed station in order to quickly respond to fire and medical calls. Unfortunately, the cost to do this has been challenging for all three cities and we have been unable to keep all three stations fully staffed. There have been multiple occasions when the District has had to close either the Cedar Hills or Alpine station because of staffing shortages. The District Board is working with the new fire chief to address this, but may not be able to staff at levels that were originally agreed to.

When we talk about being fully-staffed, that means having four firefighters/EMS personnel at each station at all times. This is because, by law, when firefighters respond to a fire call, they are not allowed to enter a burning building unless a team of four arrives at the scene. That same rule does not apply to medical calls; we can have a team of two or three EMS personnel respond to a medical call. If we have four firefighters at all three stations at all times, they are able to respond to a fire in each city. However, fire calls are a small fraction of the number of calls we receive. In 2017, the number of calls for fire and/or EMS dispatched to Cedar Hills were as follows:

We also have mutual aid agreements with all surrounding cities and each city responds to help with large fires, as needed. Knowing this, a valid question to ask is whether or not it makes sense to staff all three stations with four firefighters at all times, or if we instead lower the staffing levels for each to handle medical calls and work together to handle fire calls. As we will be receiving bids from other entities as well, we will be looking at response times as it will be important to know how quickly those entities can respond to every area of our city. Fire/EMS services are currently our largest public safety expense at $680,496 and we expect an increase this year.

As the Council discusses these services, I urge residents to share feedback. Public safety is an essential service and we value your opinion. When the bids come in, we will have a better understanding of what our options are and what the impact will be on the budget moving forward.

UPDATE
Based on a comment received, I am providing some financial information showing costs of Fire/EMS as a percentage of General Fund Revenue for Cedar Hills and cities of about the same population and General Fund Revenue.