Category Archives: Uncategorized

Transportation Taxes and Watershed Protections

This week I want to focus on two additional bills that we’ve been discussing.

Transportation

The first is SB136, Transportation Governance Amendments. The State is looking at transportation needs for the future, especially with the anticipated population growth, and this bill makes several changes related to transportation. This includes items such as:

  • Changing the UTA governance structure from the current 16-member board to a 3 full-time member commission with a 9-member advisory board. The 3-member commission members would each serve a three-year term and would receive feedback and direction from the advisory board.
  • Increasing the registration fees for electric cars from $44 to $194, and for hybrids from $44 to $65. The intent of this increase is to collect revenue from vehicles that use roads but do not contribute as much revenue through gas tax. (There is pushback on the increase by those who feel owners of these vehicles should not be penalized as these vehicles help with air quality issues, but that debate needs its own blog post).
  • Implementing a road usage charge pilot program, which is a fee based on mileage. UDOT is performing this pilot program with 100 volunteers.
  • Imposing the fourth quarter-cent sales tax on counties that did not pass this in 2015.

This post will focus on the last bullet point above. State law allows counties to impose an additional sales tax for certain transportation needs. This sales tax is divided into four quarters and must be used as outlined in State code. Below is a table showing how these funds may be used.

Utah County has imposed the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarter-cent sales taxes, but has not imposed the 4th quarter. You may recall that this proposed tax increase, known as Proposition 1, was defeated in seven counties, including Utah County. This proposal was for an increase of 0.25% with 40% going to UTA, 40% going to cities, and 20% going to counties. All funds would be for transportation projects. Many stated that while transportation funding is needed, residents rejected the increase because of the lack of trust many have in UTA.

As part of SB136, the State is now saying that counties will have until 2022 to impose the allowed quarter-cent sales taxes. If counties do not impose them, the State will and 100% of the revenue will go to the State. This bill also allows county commissioners to impose the taxes without going to a vote of the residents, though the commissioners still have the option to put it on a ballot if they so choose. If this bill passes, I would encourage Utah County residents to ask the Utah County Commissioners to impose the  4th quarter-cent. If we are going to be paying it we may as well have some of the revenue coming into our city and county to fund our roads and other transportation projects.

Watershed Protection

The other bill is HB135, Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Amendments. Currently, State law allows cities to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction for the purpose of maintaining and protecting watershed resources from injury and pollution. The law says that cities “are authorized and empowered to enact ordinances preventing pollution or contamination of the streams or watercourses from which the inhabitants of cities derive their water supply, in whole or in part, for domestic and culinary purposes.” This is important as cities are obligated to provide safe water to their residents and, as such, should be able to implement policies to protect those water resources. Cedar Hills did implement a Watershed Protection ordinance last month. This bill would remove many of the rights cities have to protect water resources. It instead gives authority to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to establish standards and administer controls to maintain water quality in watersheds. However, DEQ has stated they do not want this authority, nor do they have the resources needed to take on this responsibility. I am working with the Utah League of Cities and Towns (ULCT) and other cities to oppose this bill. I would encourage residents to reach out to the bill sponsor (Rep Michael Noel, mnoel@kanab.net) as well as our local representatives (Rep Mike Kennedy, mikekennedy@le.utah.gov and Senator Dan Hemmert, dhemmert@le.utah.gov) to express opposition to this bill. I have heard that Rep Noel may be looking at rewording this bill to only include Salt Lake City, however, it still sets a precedent and would make it easier for the Legislature to remove this local authority from any city.

Affordable Housing in Utah and What It Means for Cedar Hills

The Issue

Utah’s economy is booming, and we can see growth all around us. This means more and better paying jobs, but has also resulted in a housing shortage, especially for those who have lower incomes. The number of available and affordable units for low-income families is decreasing, which puts these families at a greater risk of being homeless. The State Legislature is looking to push through legislation this year that will financially penalize cities that do not have adequate affordable housing.

The Stats

According to a report published by The Department of Workforce Services, Housing and Community Development Division, the median family income (MFI) for a Utah household is $5634/month or $67,608/year. The report states that to be considered affordable housing, a family/individual should not be paying more than 30% of their income for housing. Based on that info, a family at the median income level should not be paying more than $1690 for rent.

The report goes on to look at data for those making 80%, 50%, and 30% of the MFI and the availability of housing units for those families and individuals. What they have found is the closer a family/individual gets to low-income or extremely low-income, the fewer units that are are available.

The Arguments

Housing developers claim that the lack of affordable housing units is primarily based on city zoning ordinances that limit or prohibit high-density and low-income housing units and high impact fees assessed by cities. Cities have pushed back stating that market conditions and other conditions outside of local government land use authority are contributing to the increase in housing prices. These include items such as increased costs for building materials, labor, and land; market demand (developers are looking to build “luxury apartments”), and realtor fees (real estate commissions = $325 million in Salt Lake County in 2016).

The Proposal

While a bill hasn’t yet been introduced, legislators have stated they will be introducing one that assesses a fee to cities that lack adequate low-income housing units in their city. A preliminary concept is to base the fee on a formula that considers the amount of affordable housing in the city and exempts cities that house a homeless resource center. Speaker Hughes has referred to this as “must pass” legislation.

The Impact on Cedar Hills

As the bill has not yet been introduced, we do not yet know what this means for Cedar Hills. Based on housing data available to us, it is clear we do not have any housing units in the city that qualify as low-income housing. One concern that we’ve raised is that for small cities such as ours that are close to being built-out residentially, there simply isn’t room to expand to zone for high-density low-income housing units. We have been following zoning ordinances that have been legal and in place for decades, but now will be penalized for not having room for this type of growth. Additionally, based on land prices in our area and lack of public transportation, it is unlikely that developers would be interested in building low-income housing in our area. And as we’ve seen from the high-density proposals that have been presented to us, high-density does not necessarily mean it qualifies as affordable housing. In fact, an argument made by representatives of a nearby Utah County city is that they have zoned portions of their city for high-density housing but developers are building luxury apartments in those areas. They do not have developers interested in building low-income housing in their city.

Questions that we are waiting to receive answers to include:

  • What criteria will be looked at when assessing a fine? Population? Land availability?
  • Who will collect, manage, and expend the revenue generated by the fee?
  • What homeless resources will qualify for funding generated by the fee? Will entities such as Lantern House in Ogden, a non-profit organization started by local religious organizations, be eligible to receive funds generated from this fee?

Once we have more information we will assess how this will impact our budget. It appears it may have a significant impact on city budgets, especially for cities such as ours that do not have any low-income housing. While there is clearly a need to address the housing issues that exist in Utah, and while I applaud the State Legislature for wanting to address housing shortages for low-income housing families, it is important for legislators to understand the impact these decisions have on municipalities. A better option may be to seek solutions at the county level instead of pitting cities against each other.

There are a few other bills that we are watching including small cell legislation (cell towers) and extraterritorial jurisdiction amendments (watershed protection programs). I will post more next week about the impact of bills such as these and how we are advocating for our city.

East-West Connector and State-Owned Land

This week I want to talk about the land south of Lone Peak High School, located in Highland. This land is owned by the State of Utah and was set aside for future development, with the intent that the land would generate revenue to provide ongoing funding for the Utah State Developmental Center (USDC), which is located just south of that land and within American Fork boundaries. Discussions about this land and an east-west connector road through the land have been ongoing since 1977. In 2014 the State House and Senate approved a concurrent resolution in support of the master plan created by the USDC, which can be viewed here.

While this land is outside of Cedar Hills, what happens there will have an impact on our community. There are two areas on which I want to focus, the first being the east-west connector road and the second being ownership of the land.

East-West Connector Road

As part of this development, there were discussions regarding an east-west road that would connect the cities of American Fork, Highland, and Cedar Hills and would go through the State-owned land. One suggestion had the road starting in the lower southwest portion and going diagonally through the proposed development to connect with Cedar Hills Drive, as seen below.

Fortunately, we’ve been told by the project manager that after further discussion, it has been determined that the diagonal road will be cut from the plans after concerns were raised about putting additional traffic at that intersection, which is already very busy when school starts and ends at Lone Peak. In May 2017 the USDC Board approved a resolution granting approval for the development of the 143 acres as outlined in the master plan, which includes the east-west connector as seen below:

This road connects to 5300 West (SR-74/Alpine Hwy) in Highland at Canal Blvd (9860 N), goes through the southern portion of the proposed development, and connects to Harvey Blvd in Cedar Hills. There will be a traffic light installed at North County Blvd and Harvey Blvd. This proposed road will reduce travel time from Cedar Hills to American Fork and parts of Highland (including Mountain Ridge Junior High) and makes our commercial zone more desirable to developers as it creates a more direct route to Cedar Hills for residents of American Fork and Highland.

As part of the resolution, the Board stipulated that the road will have a speed limit of 25mph, will only be two lanes with no center turn lane, will have bike lanes along both sides, and will not allow roadside parking. This may have an impact on available funding for the road. In 2006 and 2009, Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG) approved $4.17 million for construction of this road. However, legally MAG can only fund roads that are of “regional significance”, which is defined as a minor collector or above. According to MAG, the UDOT study for this development identifies the need for a collector class road, which is identified as a three-lane cross-section and typically will have a speed limit in the 35mph range. In discussions I’ve had with representatives of MAG and USDC, I have been told that MAG can fund the road with the speed and size limitations approved by the USDC Board, but only as long as the road is designated a collector road. For this reason, several cities in North Utah County are passing resolutions asking for the State to approve the construction of this east-west connector and requesting that the road has the necessary elements to maintain the classification as a collector road.

Ownership

Because the purpose of this land is to provide a continual source of revenue for the USDC, the State plans on keeping ownership of most of the land, which would include some housing elements and some commercial elements. My understanding is that the State plans to sell off the single-family housing units and retain ownership of the high-density housing and commercial areas. The current master plan looks like this:

As you can see from the chart above, the density consists of:

  • 165 single family lots
  • 630 apartments
  • 49 townhomes
  • 200 senior apartments
  • 28 senior single-family units
  • 134,000 sq ft of retail space
  • 40,200 sq ft of office space

The land currently resides in Highland, though the USDC Board has discussed the possibility of requesting annexation into American Fork as the USDC is located in American Fork and they feel it would be easier to deal with one city. While this density is higher than either city would normally allow, the State is not required to adhere to municipal zoning ordinances.

Why does this matter to Cedar Hills?

The chart above shows that an estimated 1,072 housing units will be added to this area, in addition to retail and office space. All the land that is State-owned is exempt from property tax. This means while the city in which the land resides will see an increased need for public safety personnel and equipment, and while the school district will have a significant number of new students added to the school system, neither entity will be able to collect property taxes from the State-owned portions to pay for these needed services. It is safe to assume that the added cost will be pushed to existing property owners. We contract with American Fork for police services and with Lone Peak Public Safety District for fire services, which serves Highland, Alpine, and Cedar Hills. Regardless of which city this land resides in, it is reasonable to expect that an increased demand for public safety services with no associated increase in revenue to cover those services will impact our residents as well those in Highland and/or American Fork. The mayors of American Fork and Highland are meeting with State representatives and requesting that the State sell the entire 143 acres for development instead of retaining ownership of the land. If this were to occur, the developer of the land would need to comply with city ordinances (which should reduce the proposed density) and owners would be subject to property tax, which would help cover the cost of the increased need for services.

Call to Action

I encourage you to reach out to Representative Mike Kennedy (mikekennedy@le.utah.gov) and Senator Dan Hemmert (dhemmert@le.utah.gov) to

1) express your support for the approval of the Murdock Connector Road to be built as required for classification as a connector road, and

2) list any concerns you have with the amount of density being proposed and the lack of funding to pay for public safety services that will be needed to serve the proposed development.

Feel free to email me at jrees@cedarhills.org with any questions or feedback. As I have updates, I will share those as well.

Welcome to a New Year!

It has been my honor to serve as a City Council member for the past six years and I look forward to continuing to serve Cedar Hills as mayor over the next four years. We have many important issues to discuss and, as always, I welcome your input and feedback as we make decisions for our community.

Communication and transparency have been and will continue to be a priority for me. While I will continue to have a monthly column in the city newsletter, one of the best ways to receive timely and in-depth updates from me is to follow my Facebook page at facebook.com/mayorjenneyrees or to visit this blog. I plan on using this blog to keep residents informed on city issues, as well provide updates from the county and state that impact our community. You may also email me at jrees@cedarhills.org if you wish to receive email updates of the messages posted here.

Because I will now be responsible for chairing City Council meetings, I won’t be typing notes during the meeting and posting to the blog I used to maintain as a council member. However, I will post a brief update by the next day on the topics that were discussed and voted on. This will be posted to my Mayor Jenney Rees Facebook page.

While Cedar Hills is nearly built out, Utah County is still growing, and it is important that we prepare for that growth and preserve those aspects of our community that make Cedar Hills a great place to live. I look forward to working with the City Council, city staff, and residents as we plan for our future.

Meet the Candidates Q&A

A big thank you to the Cedar Ridge PTA for hosting our meet-the-candidates event. Also, thank you to all those who attended and submitted questions. For those who were unable to attend, below are the questions we received and my responses. I am happy to discuss these or any other topics that we didn’t address.

Is the current status of Canyon Road in Cedar Hills acceptable?  If not, what will you do to make it acceptable in the next 4 years?

The current status is unacceptable. There are several known safety issues that exist along this road, including lack of center turn lanes, lack of shoulders and sidewalks, visibility issues, drainage issues, and surface damage. Through a deal with the State, the County took ownership of the road in 2014 and while they are looking at making some small improvements, the only thing they plan on doing for the portion of the road located in Cedar Hills is an overlay. The county commissioners have fought against adding safety improvements by claiming that there are no safety issues, or stating that county roads don’t have safety features such as curb and gutter, sidewalks, and bike lanes.

While most county roads may not have these features, this does not have to be the case for every county-owned road. The commissioners have the authority to create policy for infrastructure and could decide that safety features for roads should be based on the traffic counts, road designation, and location of the road, not solely on who owns the road. Canyon Road has average daily traffic counts that exceed 10,000 – far higher than any other road owned by Utah County. This road is highly traveled and is considered both a connector and arterial road. In addition to being a connector/arterial, it serves as an access point to American Fork Canyon.

Funding safe roads and infrastructure is an essential role of government and should be a priority. While I realize that an overlay will soon be coming for Canyon Road to address some of the surface issues, I will continue to advocate for the County to address all safety issues that exist on this road. As Utah County citizens, we pay taxes to the county and deserve to have our concerns regarding safety taken seriously.

Do you support commercial zoning of St. Andrews Estates?

I do not. This area was originally part of the golf course and zoned open space. Later when that land was reconfigured, it was zoned residential and an agreement was entered into with the original developer to grant some residential density in that area. I believe any commercial development should occur in our already established commercial zone. I do not support re-zoning any of our residential or open space areas for commercial use.

Do you support zoning St. Andrews Estates as open space, for future use as park space? (This could include a dog park, mountain biking trail, or numerous other uses, either with a fence to shelter people from golf balls or reconfiguration of the course to provide for a different space on the hillside for public use. This may be 10+ years in the future.)

I am open to this option. The city spent approximately $600,000 to reconfigure the golf course to create the residential lots known as St. Andrews Estates, with the intent that the proceeds from the sale of these lots would be used to pay down the golf course debt. If that doesn’t happen, then the city wasted $600,000 and changed the golf course for the worse for no benefit. I also support paying down our golf course bond as quickly as we can. My only reservation is for the people who may purchase those lots. Over the six years I’ve served on the Council we’ve heard from residents who live, walk, and play near the driving range. We’ve heard complaints about property being damaged due to stray golf balls going over the fence, about pedestrians and cars being hit by golf balls, and concerns soccer teams have had with the number of golf balls landing at Mesquite Park. We eventually approved the money to construct higher nets at the driving range to reduce these issues. If there is a high likelihood of damage to homes, or if the safety of those living below the hole on the east of Canyon Road is going to be an issue, I would rather see that land re-zoned open space. However, I would encourage that we re-seed it with native vegetation and let it blend in with the mountain. If it is too risky to build homes there due to damage from golf balls, it is also too risky to have people recreating in the area. I don’t believe it makes sense to spend more money trying to reconfigure the golf course again.

The city recently purchased 12 acres to develop a park. Would you prefer to complete the park in phases that may or may not cost more due to the fast growth in construction costs over several years or finish the park all at once issuing debt at relatively low interest rates?

My preference would be to finish the park all at once. While saving up for large expenditures makes sense with our personal finances, it doesn’t when it comes to government projects. The reason for this is that many may pay taxes to the city, which is then saved up for a project, only to move before the project is completed, and therefore never benefit from the money they contributed. However, if a bond is issued and the project is completed all at once, then those paying for the bond now are also enjoying the benefit now. I also support this option as a bond can go on a ballot for residents to vote on whether or not to fund a project of this size.

Public safety–fire and police contracts will be renewed or updated in the next 2 years with substantial increases likely to maintain the level of service. Would you want to raise taxes or fees to maintain or increase the level of service for fire and/or police, or would you be willing to consolidate fire stations or move police services to another partner to reduce costs?

Public safety is our largest budget expenditure and will continue to rise, which is the case for other cities as well. This is an issue that needs more research and discussion. We need data showing response times from every station within Lone Peak Public Safety, as well as from neighboring cities. We need to know what are considered acceptable standards for response times and how neighboring agencies can meet those for us if we did decide to make a change. While we currently have fire stations in Highland, Alpine, and Cedar Hills, the stations in Alpine and Cedar Hills are rarely fully staffed, which suggests consolidation may be an option. Once we have all the data on what options are available, what the response times will be for each of those options, and what the cost will be for each option, we need to have a discussion as a community on what level of service we are willing to pay for. It may be that if we want to continue with what was originally planned, which is a fully-staffed fire station in our city, we will need to pay more in taxes to cover the cost.

Nobody wants to pay for legal services, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil to protect the city residents desires. Should the city spend funds fighting for residents desires on legal cases that are probable or likely to lose? At what point do you limit your spending on legal services? $100,000, 1 million or until the city is bankrupt?

I would never support bankrupting the city for any legal expense, nor would I support fighting a battle that our attorney said we were going to lose. Whenever legal services have been required, we work closely with our attorney to decide on the best course of action. It is important for the mayor and council to work closely with the city attorney to understand the expense and risks of any course of action for every lawsuit, and when allowed, to communicate to residents why the final decision was made.

What are your thoughts on a community swimming pool in Cedar Hills?

While that would be a wonderful addition to our community, I don’t believe it makes financial sense. We will be paying off the golf course bond for some time, and our population size makes it challenging to fund additional large projects. In a recent survey conducted throughout the city, residents were provided information on three different types of pools and asked if they would support a bond to fund the pool. On the $5million bond, which would increase taxes approximately $13/month per household, 63% of residents said no. On the $9million bond, which would increase taxes approximately $22/month per household, 61% of residents said no. On the $12million bond, which would increase taxes approximately $27/month per household, 70% of residents said no. When asked about a $1.5million bond to build a splash pad, which could require a monthly tax increase of approximately $3.50/month per household, 52% of residents said yes. With this information, if we are going to have a water facility of any kind, it makes the most sense to build a splash park at our newly acquired park in the southern portion of the city.

What skills or expertise would you bring to the council that the current council members don’t already have?

I have been serving on the City Council for almost six years and am running for mayor this year. One of the important roles of the mayor is to serve as the official spokesperson and represent the city in a variety of ways. This includes serving on boards and interacting with officials from throughout the state. In order to best represent the community, it is essential for the mayor to communicate with fellow elected officials and staff, and to consistently engage with residents to best understand the desires residents have for the city. I have worked hard over the past six years to engage with residents through a variety of formats and will continue to do so. I provide all my notes from Council meetings on my blog, and I am actively engaged in sharing information and responding to questions through social media. I share my notes and updates from my assignments with the City Council and work with staff to make sure I understand all sides of the issues we face. I will encourage communication and collaboration with elected officials, staff, and residents as we work to address the needs and concerns of the city. I will proactively share information that I am legally allowed to as it relates to our city and/or on issues that impact our community and quality of life, and will solicit feedback on those issues. I remain committed to representing the will of our residents.

How would you attract businesses to the commercial zone (Be specific.)?

We recently updated our commercial zoning ordinances to more accurately define the intended purpose of the commercial zone and describe what is allowed and what is prohibited. This was based on feedback received from residents over the past several years and helped clarify any portions of our code that some felt were unclear. As for attracting businesses, the biggest factor for commercial development is population. While our population is small, there are things happening now that make our commercial zone more desirable. First, it appears the State Legislature is prepared to move forward with developing their land just south of Lone Peak High School. Part of this development will include single-family and high-density housing, which brings more people to the area who need goods and services. Additionally, the east-west connector road should be approved in the next legislative session, which will connect Cedar Hills to American Fork through the southern portion of that land and make it easier for residents in Cedar Hills, Alpine, Highland, and American Fork to get all four cities. As this road will be near our commercial zone, that also increases the value of the area.

We are currently under contract on the nine acres owned by the city, just south of Harts, but I cannot provide more information than that at this time. The rest of the property in our commercial area is privately owned, but the items mentioned above also make their land more desirable to commercial developers.

What have you done as a volunteer or otherwise to be engaged with the city?

I have volunteered for numerous beautification projects. I have served as the volunteer coordinator on the Family Festival Committee for the past two years and volunteer at every Family Festival event. I currently volunteer every Friday for the American Fork Police Victim’s Advocate Department.

What is your position on the PARC tax?

I support the PARC tax. If approved, it would add an additional 0.1% tax on all retail items sold in Cedar Hills, which means that for every $10 spent in a retail establishment within Cedar Hills, the city would assess a tax of one penny. By collecting this small sales tax, residents and non-residents who shop in Cedar Hills assist in generating funds for parks, arts, and recreational opportunities within the city. While this tax is minimal, it has the ability to have a large positive impact on our community and quality life. Our parks, trails, and community events are highly valued and provide the sense of community that makes Cedar Hills a place where people want to raise families and enjoy time together as friends and neighbors. The PARC tax provides revenue for those things—parks, trails, and community events–most desired by our residents. Because it is a tax added to retail sales, residents from other cities that shop in Cedar Hills also contribute to the revenue generated for these services. Our commercial district, adjacent to Walmart, is now on the verge of expanding. As these retail opportunities expand in our city, the PARC tax can provide funding for such things as the completion of our trails system, completion of our newly-acquired 12-acre park near Deerfield Elementary, and the provision of community services.

Lindon, PG, AF and other cities around us have senior centers. We’re too small to afford that. What, if anything, should / could Cedar Hills do to provide more support/activities / engagement for seniors in the community?

If there is a desire for this among seniors in our community, I would like to see activities scheduled at the Community Center. The purpose of this building is to provide these types of community opportunities for residents, and I would love to see it utilized more for these types of activities.

Would you support a tax/bond increase to make improvements to Canyon Road beyond what the county is willing to do?

No. The County owns this road and is responsible for improvements. When the County approached us about taking ownership of Canyon Road, we hired an outside firm to provide us with information on what it would cost us over a 30 year period to maintain it to acceptable standards. Without adding any new safety features such as sidewalks and bike lanes, it was estimated to be $5 million. If safety improvements were added, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, roundabouts, etc, the cost would be much higher. Our city is not in a position to take on the financial responsibilities of a regional road like Canyon Road.

Communication with residents is a challenge for the city government. What would you suggest to improve connection with residents?

I would like to see City Council meetings live-streamed and posted on YouTube so that residents who are interested have an opportunity to participate. The city has made a push to move away from paper and utilize more electronic communication, such as social media and email, and I’ve heard positive feedback from this. I would encourage elected officials to engage with residents via social media as that has been an effective and easy way to understand multiple points of view.

Have you read the General Plan? What changes do you think need to be made in it?

Yes, and it needs to be updated. The title page still refers to Cedar Hills as a town instead of a city, and the last revision was done in 2002. Since then, some of the projects suggested have been completed and others have been removed from the Capital Projects Plan. While much of it is still relevant as it relates to the desired look and feel for the community, it is time for a significant update.

What would you like to see done with the park on Harvey?

We recently hired a group to help us develop a parks master plan for the entire city, and it includes the park on Harvey Blvd. While they are in the early concept design phase, I am pleased to see that the design is being based on feedback provided by residents through the recent park survey. As the design process continues, I will encourage outreach and communication with residents so that the final plans reflect the desires of the community.

Tell us how you would gauge the sentiments of residents on issues you will vote on?

I rely heavily on data provided through surveys, through discussions posted on social media, on public comments made in Council meetings, and on information provided to me directly through email and phone calls. I will continue to reach out to residents through all these formats in order to best understand differing perspectives and make decisions based on the needs and desires of residents.

The various budgets set priorities for the city. Have you looked at the budgets? If so, what shifts in priorities might you suggest?

Yes, I review the budget multiple times every year as the Council is responsible for approving the budget. I would like to see our community center used more by residents and by the city for community events, and would approve a decrease in the expected revenue from other events, such as wedding receptions, in order to accommodate more community uses of that facility.

Are youth sports a proper role of government or should that be left to others to provide?

It is not the proper role for federal or state government, but city government exists to provide services. One of the benefits of living in a city is that we, the residents of the city, have a voice in deciding what we want our community to look like. Residents of Cedar Hills have expressed support for youth recreation, open space, and community events such as our annual Family Festival. These programs and services create a family-friendly atmosphere and provide opportunities for our youth to participate in recreational activities. Our recreation staff continually analyze which programs are the most utilized and charge participation fees that cover the cost of youth sports programs so they are not subsidized with tax dollars.

Should the city provide funds for the bookmobile or retain them to subsidize residents to use nearby libraries?

The County used to provide bookmobile services to our community without an additional cost but recently decided to start charging cities who wanted bookmobile services. In order to keep the service that was being offered to us, which was a 2-hour stop every other Monday from 1-3pm, our annual cost would have been $5616. We currently budget $17,000/year to offer library reimbursements of $40 per household, which means 425 households in Cedar Hills can receive a reimbursement each year. In order to fund the bookmobile, we’d either have to reduce the number of households eligible for reimbursement to 284 or reduce the reimbursement to less than $40. I asked for feedback on this and overwhelmingly the feedback was to keep the current library reimbursement structure as is. Some of the reasons for this are 1) using a library is more convenient as you can go anytime during business hours instead of only having access two Mondays from 1-3pm; 2) the local elementary schools offer free year-round library services for children; 3) the bookmobile was out of commission multiple times, which meant we didn’t always have service; 4) the other city libraries have agreements which allow for cardholders to check out books from multiple libraries; and 5) bookmobile cards can be used by any resident, so Cedar Hills cardholders can still get books from the bookmobile when it stops in Alpine. Based on feedback and the information above, I believe it makes sense to continue to offer the $40 library reimbursement and not continue with the bookmobile.

We don’t do much in the way of joint ventures with nearby Highland and Alpine. Why do you think that is? Should we look more in that direction for things like recreation centers or not? If so, how would you approach that?

The only joint venture we have with Highland and Alpine is Lone Peak Public Safety District, and while it has benefits, it has also been challenging. Each city wants to protect its residents from tax increases and this has led to some difficult decisions when it comes to properly funding the district. Too often there have been arguments over which city is paying too much, or which city isn’t contributing enough. There have been arguments over the formula used to determine how much each city will pay and which stations will be staffed with how many people. When you have three cities with unique challenges and different priorities, these joint ventures can be difficult. I am not optimistic that the three cities could agree on a long-term plan for a recreation center. Before any discussions were had with regards to a venture such as this, I believe the three cities need to first work out the issues that exist within Lone Peak Public Safety.

Did you volunteer for any part of Family Festival? Explain.

Yes, I volunteer for every Family Festival event.

Heritage Park is filled with giant, weak-wooded trees that are starting to die, which has required the removal of several trees along the creek bed. A comprehensive tree pruning job was estimated at more than $100,000. Would you try to extend the life of these struggling trees with pruning and irrigation improvements, or do the status quo and take down the trees as they die or fund new stronger trees as a replacement for the affected areas?

I would first seek an opinion from our parks maintenance team as they know better than I on how to best resolve this issue. It may be a combination of pruning and irrigation improvements along with planting stronger replacement trees. One of the best features of Heritage Park is the beautiful trees and I would support efforts to preserve that feature.

Who should approve free community events organized by outside groups or individuals at the city’s event center? What qualifications should be met by the event center when they are not paying?

The current policy is that staff approves free community events. This is the best course of action as decisions are then not based on political pressure. When a group or individual requests use of the facility at no charge, staff will generally approve it if the event is open to the entire community at no cost to residents, and if the event is not political in nature. All political events are excluded from the no-charge policy as the legal opinion provided by the city attorney specifically said that state law prohibits the use of city funds for any political purposes. This includes meet-the-candidate events or other similar political gatherings. Decisions of this nature should be made by staff, with guidance from the city attorney if there are questions.

Jenney Rees for Cedar Hills Mayor

The General Election will be Tuesday, November 7, 2017. I have been honored to serve on the City Council since 2012 and hope to earn your vote to serve as Mayor. The following are areas on which I would like to focus.

Communication

With social media and technological advances, it is easier than ever to communicate with each other. Since I was elected in 2011 I have made it my goal to engage with residents through a variety of formats. I post my notes to my blog after each Council meeting, I engage with residents on Facebook forums, and I am always willing to sit down and meet with anyone who would like to discuss the issues facing our city. Additionally, I have consistently provided messages through the city newsletter, I helped create the city’s social media sites, and I created and have written many of the annual State of the City reports. My commitment as Mayor is to continue these communication efforts, explore new ones, and to be accessible to residents, day or night, to address concerns.

Fiscal Responsibility

Since 2012 I have worked together with staff and officials to reduce our debt burden while continuing to provide the services our residents want and need. These efforts include refinancing the golf course bond with a lower interest rate of 2.47%, which equates to a total savings of almost $500,000 over the life of the loan; refinancing Utility Revenue Bonds, which resulted in a total savings of approximately $638,000; and paying off the Public Safety Building almost seven years early. All money that the city receives and expends belongs to the residents of Cedar Hills and, as such, should be allocated judiciously. As Mayor, I will continue to work with staff and the City Council to make wise financial decisions that benefit our city and our residents.

Community

Through the years, we have done a series of surveys to determine what residents love most about Cedar Hills. Overwhelmingly, it comes down to those things that give Cedar Hills that small, hometown feel. Open space, access to American Fork Canyon, youth recreation, and community events top the list of things to love about our city. While serving on the City Council, I have continually advocated to preserve our open spaces and to provide opportunities for residents to utilize our recreation and community resources. As Mayor I will work with the Council to promote community by continuing with our services and traditions while exploring new opportunities to bring our city together.

Planning

Across the state, cities are struggling to maintain infrastructure while providing services. Through careful planning and budgeting, our team has worked together to avoid many of the issues other cities are facing. Working together with staff, I am committed to following a long-term maintenance and replacement plan for our streets and utilities with the goal to follow a pay-as-you-go model instead of bonding for expensive projects.

With regards to our commercial area, I will advocate for businesses that adhere to our General Plan and the stated intent of our commercial zone. While our commercial area is small, it was created with the intent to provide an area where the primary use is for commercial businesses that serve the needs of the community and surrounding areas.

We are currently in the process of creating a Parks and Trails Master Plan to ensure that residents have access to outdoor recreation and play areas throughout the community. I will continue to place a high priority on our open spaces as they enhance the quality of life in our community and beautify our neighborhoods.

Service

A desire to serve is essential when running for office. My service to our community includes serving on the City Council since 2012, serving as the volunteer coordinator for the Family Festival, volunteering at numerous Family Festival events, helping with city service projects, and serving as a volunteer for the Victim’s Advocate department with American Fork Police. Input from residents is valuable and I will encourage utilizing resident-driven committees to explore issues and opportunities facing our city. I enjoy serving with others throughout the community as we work together to make Cedar Hills a great place to live and, as Mayor, I will continue with these efforts and others that come with a new role.

PI Metering

There have been multiple discussions on the pros and cons of metering our pressurized irrigation water. The primary arguments for metering center on reducing wasteful consumption and reducing the wear and tear on our system. I am not yet convinced that secondary metering is the right solution for these problems and would instead like to educate and encourage residents to invest in smart controllers for their sprinkler systems. Smart controllers work by developing watering cycles based on an individual yard and weather patterns, and have proven to reduce consumption without the need for meters and changes in billing. There are a few reasons I’m advocating this approach.

First, secondary water meters don’t always result in conservation, especially if you have a group of people who can afford it. From a Standard-Examiner article from 2015:

O’Loughlin with Brilliant Integrated Technologies has noticed himself how different homeowners have different motivations to conserve. His work promoting the new irrigation controller often takes him back to California. The state is facing a tougher drought crisis than Utah, and pay water rates around 74 percent higher, but overwatering hasn’t gone away there, either. Just last summer, water use in the parched state increased by 1 percent instead of going down by their targeted 20 percent. California policymakers passed a $500-a-day fine for overwatering to try to curb use. “No matter where you go, water is not that expensive compared to what you’re putting it on; it’s noise for some people compared to the investment in landscaping and what the house is worth,” he said.

I’ve heard that Spanish Fork has implemented secondary meters and has seen a reduction in usage. However, our demographics are different from those of Spanish Fork. In Spanish Fork, the average annual income is $68,767 and the average home value is $214,014. In Cedar Hills the average annual income is $97,693 and the average home value is $343,377. (city-data.com). In an area like ours, many users can afford the higher rates so metering won’t necessarily equate to conservation.

Second, studies have shown that educating users on consumption has helped reduce usage. The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District installed water meters in Ogden, however, they did not change how they bill. They provided watering stats to residents who had meters and found that, without changes in billing, consumption went down. From that Standard-Examiner article:

Joanna Endter-Wada, a professor in the Department of Environment and Society at Utah State University, helped the water district use the data to gain a wider social perspective of conservation, too. 

“Our interest was in trying to assess the effectiveness of the information itself,” she said. “Could people be compelled or encouraged to conserve, just knowing whether or not water they were using was sufficient to meet their needs?” 

The answer, it seems, is a resounding “yes.”

The district has only kept track for the past three years, and they’re still finalizing the 2014 data. But preliminary estimates from the meters show the average household in Weber County used 83 percent of their one acre-foot water allocation in 2012. By 2014, that figure dropped to 60 percent.

The data also shows that the amount of people exceeding their water use allocation — another way of saying “overwatering” — dropped from 26 percent in 2012 to 9 percent in 2013.

“How much water costs is one motivation, but people, in general, have values related to not being wasteful, using their fair share and being reasonable in the amount of water they’re using in comparison to others,” Endter-Wada said. “So if people become aware of the fact that their use is considered inefficient, or they’re using a lot more water than they really need, many of them are motivated to conserve by doing right as members of society.”

Also, from a 2016 Standard-Examiner article:

Tage Flint, general manager and CEO at Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, stresses that education has always been the key to conserving water. “What we’re finding is that the more educated the water user is, the more efficient they are in their water usage,” he said.
Flint says new technologies are helping to boost water conservation. For example, when a homeowner installs a smart controller, it generally makes an immediate difference.
“What we’re seeing is that, almost overnight, we’re getting a 30- to 200-percent reduction in water use,” Flint said.
Kelly Kopp, a professor of plants, soils and climate at Utah State University, in Logan, has been focusing much of her research on these new controllers.
“I do think that the future of irrigation is going to focus on technology,” Kopp says. “And smart irrigation controllers are a big part of that, with huge potential water savings.”
Britney Hunter, an extension assistant professor in horticulture at the Davis County USU Extension Service, says she’s “pleasantly surprised” at how affordable these smart timers are, and just what the technology is capable of. Indeed, Hunter said if everyone in Davis County replaced their irrigation timer with a smart controller, the average home would save 8,800 gallons of water annually. Nationwide, that could translate into a savings of 120 billion gallons.

In researching this, I’m finding places like California are now installing smart controllers on top of water meters because the meters weren’t enough. However, technology continues to advance and smart meters are being developed that do both. I’m concerned that if we do meters now but the state eventually feels smart controllers are more effective, we will need to upgrade once again.

Third, the more I study the conservation issue, the more strongly I feel this needs to be led by the state and not individual cities. Our wells draw from aquifers, and other cities draw from the same aquifers. If we are conserving but other cities are not, then our efforts will not have any meaningful impact. Lehi is a great example. They continue to drill down deeper to supply more water to their rapidly growing community. If we scale back but they continue to draw down the aquifer, we will still suffer. This isn’t to say that we should ignore conservation efforts. This is an important issue and we should all do our part. But if conservation of a resource is key, then it’s only going to work if everyone is participating.

Fourth, the wear and tear on our system is a concern, but I’m not certain metering will fix it. If we don’t see a reduction in use, then meters would not have solved that problem. We have had Bowen & Collins do a study on our water, sewer, storm drain, and PI system and they recommended rates based on ongoing operations and improvements. They have continued to state we do not need to raise PI rates. If our system isn’t going to last as long as anticipated, we could instead raise PI rates to plan for improvements more often than the current plan. I am interested in Bowen & Collins explaining why their recommendations haven’t changed based on usage, and if they did recommend a rate change to address wear and tear, how much that would be. It could be considerably less expensive than meters.

Fifth, on the subject of paying for what you use. This is a market principle that makes sense to me. However, we used to do exactly that when we used culinary water on our lawns. At some point the city recommended a PI system where residents would only be charged a flat rate. It turns out whoever did that study didn’t take into account that supplying an unlimited amount of something for a flat fee would increase usage. To now go back to residents and say that isn’t working doesn’t seem fair, and I’m sure that is why so many residents are opposed to water meters. I would like to explore other options to reduce consumption and use metering as a last resort.

In summary, I recommend that we increase education efforts, which may even require us to get some outside help for a season. I would like the city to emphasize the benefits of smart controllers and encourage residents to obtain one. Controllers range from $100-$300 and several water conservancy districts are offering rebates of half the cost up to $150 to install and approved device. In addition, the city could explore offering a rebate for those who show proof of installation of an approved device. We should also eliminate watering restriction days for those who use smart controllers as they system will be setup to only water when needed. I feel that residents would conserve if they had tools that made it easy to do so, and were aware of how much water was being used. It’s not unlike recycling. Many residents pay each month for a recycling bin without any financial incentive to do so, but because they feel strongly about conservation. With more education and improvements in technology, I think this is the direction that makes the most sense. I think we need to do more research on the options and talk with someone at the State level to see what research and plans are happening there. I would hate for us to go down a road that doesn’t resolve the issues, or that has to change in the near future as technology and awareness changes. We made the mistake of thinking that a flat fee PI billing structure would be fine, and are now realizing that assumption was incorrect.