Canyon Road

A discussion regarding the future of Canyon Road has been ongoing for several years. Here is a brief recap:

  • The County wanted to make improvements to North County Blvd, which was owned by Pleasant Grove, American Fork, and Highland, and wanted federal dollars to make the improvements. In order to get federal dollars, the ownership of the road had to be transferred to the State. Through an agreement made between UDOT and Utah County, a trade was made after North County Blvd was completed. UDOT, which owned Canyon Road, agreed to take ownership of North County Blvd and the County agreed to take ownership of Canyon Road. Canyon Road maintained its classification as a “Minor Arterial and Major Collector” road.
  • UDOT gave to the County the funds they had set aside to do an overlay on Canyon Road, which was $3.3 million.
  • Cedar Hills and Pleasant Grove approached Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG) and requested additional funding to make significant improvements to Canyon Road, including fixing drainage issues and installing curb and gutter. This was approved for $4.5 million. The County agreed to allocate an additional $1.5 million to the project. I’m not clear as to where those funds came from as I’ve heard they are federal funds the County received as part of the transfer agreement of North County Blvd. With all the funding available, there was a total of $9.3 million to improve Canyon Road.
  • The County approached both cities and stated they are willing to use all of those funds to make improvements but only if the cities agree to take ownership of the road in 30 years and immediately take responsibility for pothole repair and maintenance, snow removal, law enforcement, storm drainage, signage, debris removal, and some road striping. Our city manager estimated the cost for us would be $15,000-$20,000 per year from year one. The ongoing maintenance after the transfer of ownership would be much higher as we will then be responsible for all major road repairs, resulting in millions of dollars to be expended.
  • The County originally indicated that if we refused to take ownership, they would reject the MAG funds ($4.5 million) and just do an overlay.
  • In a recent Council meeting we discussed our concerns with the agreement, including but not limited to our $15-$20k annual responsibility from day one, the ability for the County to give 6 months’ notice to terminate the agreement before the 30 year transfer of ownership (though they do have to give us money to maintain the road at their levels for the entire 30 year contract), that the agreement didn’t fix all the drainage issues nor install curb and gutter on the entire road through our portion, concerns with our ability to handle snow plowing immediately, and the eventual ownership and costs. While the improvements being proposed are significant, they do not raise the quality of Canyon Road to city standards.

At our request, we had a joint meeting with the Pleasant Grove City Council on November 22, 2016. This was an opportunity to hear where Pleasant Grove was with the agreement and to express our concerns. Also in attendance were Utah County Commissioners Bill Lee and Larry Ellertson, Commissioner-elect Nathan Ivie, Utah County Public Works Director Richard Nielson, Andrew Jackson with MAG, and many city staff members from both cities. At that meeting members of the Cedar Hills Council expressed concerns with the safety of Canyon Road and the agreement.

The major points that I brought up were 1) Cedar Hills isn’t in a position to expend $15-$20k per year to maintain a County Road, 2) our city is almost completely built out so our ability to own a road of that size and scope, even in 30 years, is limited as the cost will be in the millions of dollars, 3) while the County feels that County standards are less than those of a city with regards to roads, the improvements being suggested do not raise the quality of the road to city standards, 4) the improvements being recommended do not address all of the safety issues, 5) if the project exceeds the $9.3 million budget, the cities have the pay the balance, and 6) the County made this agreement with UDOT knowing it was not a rural road and had significant safety issues that should have been addressed some time ago.

My initial hope was that PG and Cedar Hills could work together and reject the agreement, ask the County to use the $9.3 available to them to fix the road and address the safety issues of the road they own, then later meet together with the County to discuss the future of the road. It was apparent at the end of the meeting that the majority of the PG City Council is willing to sign an agreement with the County to repair their portion and take on ownership in the future. It’s possible they have the ability to do so as they no longer have to maintain their previously owned portion of North County Blvd, but I do not know the details of their budget. I suggested to the County that we look at a separate agreement for Cedar Hills thatmakes sense for us. Our city is smaller than PG (CH population = 10,265, PG population = 38,052), our budgeted revenues are less (for fiscal year 2017 CH = $4,084,654, PG = $13,928,006), PG turned over ownership for their portion of North County Blvd where we are keeping all of the streets we’ve been responsible for, and PG has more staff and more resources to handle a road the size of Canyon Road. While the agreement as written may make sense for PG, it doesn’t make sense for a city of our size. At the same time, the road needs to be fixed and the County, as the owner of the road, should address issues for the safety of everyone who drives on Canyon Road.

After the meeting was over I spoke with one of the County Commissioners and am cautiously optimistic that something canbe done that addresses the issues without hurting our city. I will continue to post updates as more conversations take place.

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SR_146 Reconstruction and Widening Concept Report_Final (2)

CARE Tax

heritage-parkIf you are like me, you are tired of hearing about national politics and being told who to vote for or why your vote is a wasted vote. So instead, I’m going to talk about a local issue that will be on the Cedar Hills ballot.

This year we will decide whether or not renew our Cultural Arts and Recreation (CARE) tax. I am in favor and voting yes. This is a tax we are currently paying as it was previously approved by residents, so it won’t increase taxes from current rates. It is 0.1% on sales tax, which means 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 arts and recreational programs in Cedar Hills.

Since I have served on the Council we have used CARE tax funds for the following:

  • Basketball court at Heritage Park
  • Completion of the Community Center basement
  • Adding a restroom at Mesquite Park
  • Events hosted by the Arts Committee, which includes the annual date night and the children’s art contest as part of the Family Festival

For this fiscal year we plan on using CARE tax funds for Bayhill Park and Heritage Park improvements. The approximate amount we generate each year from this tax is $40,000. Our residents have expressed an appreciation for our parks and trails system and for our recreation programs. CARE tax funds go directly towards projects like these. We still have parks and trails projects on our capital improvements plan and we are continually adding new recreational opportunities for our children. The funds from CARE tax helps us complete these projects and add these opportunities.

Feel free to reach out if you have questions on this. I hope you will support our arts and recreational programs by voting yes.

New Park Scheduled for 2017

Over the years the city has collected feedback from residents through a variety of surveys and one of the things on which we consistently receive positive reviews is our parks and trails system. With so many children and youth in our community, it’s no surprise that we value places where our children can explore and play outside.

Thanks to the volunteer members of our Parks & Trails Committee and to city staff, the development of another park was approved by the City Council for completion in June 2017. This park has been on the city’s master plan for about a decade and is known as Bayhill Park as it is located on Bayhill Drive. Below are the plans that were presented to the Council.

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Bids for construction are currently being solicited with an approval date by the Council at a meeting in November so that construction can begin at the beginning of 2017. I appreciate the time and effort of the Parks and Trails Committee in redesigning the park and helping us move forward with more open spaces for our community.

The city does have a master Parks & Trails map that shows current and future parks and trails. That information can be found on the city’s website here.

parks-master-plan

If you are interested in helping with the planning and development of the city’s parks and trails, as well as helping with various city events, the Parks & Trails Committee is always looking for additional volunteers. We meet once a month for one hour and are responsible for events such as the annual summer breakfast, the annual Santa night, the annual service day, and recommending future projects to the City Council. For more information, feel free to contact me via email at jrees@cedarhills org or on my phone at 801-358-8730.

Feedback Wanted

There are many reasons why I love Cedar Hills, and one of the things I love most is how involved residents are in the community. We have residents who volunteer to serve on committees, participate in city-sponsored events, and who provide valuable feedback and insight on issues facing the city.

As a member of the City Council, I do a better job when I receive input from residents on things the Council is discussing and/or voting on. Social media has been very helpful as there have been many robust conversations on city issues, which helps me know how residents feel on any given topic, and also provides insight on differing opinions. One question that comes up is how residents can be aware of what the Council is discussing at a future meeting. There are two ways to do this. The first is to visit the city’s website here. The city posts the entire packet that the Council receives before each meeting, and residents have access to the same information the Council receives. You can also visit that same link to view the minutes and listen to the audio from previous meetings.

The second, and in my opinion, easiest way to stay informed is to sign up to receive agendas electronically. Through the State’s Public Notice Website you can sign up to receive an emailed copy of the agenda packet for Cedar Hills. You can also receive emailed agendas for other public entities, such as schools or the county. Signing up for this means you will automatically receive an emailed copy of the Council agenda and packet prior to the meeting. The main page is the agenda, which provides a brief description of what will be discussed. Behind that there is a memo for each topic, which provides detailed information for the discussion and any supporting documents.

If there is something on the agenda or in the packet that concerns you or that you would like to weigh in on, I encourage you to do so by attending the public comment portion of the Council meeting. If you are unable to attend the meeting, you can send your feedback to the Council via email or call any of us on the phone. Our email and phone information can be found here. You are also welcome to post comments to my City Council Facebook page found here.

I appreciate all those who take the time to send their feedback. Working together makes our city one of the best in the state.

Property Tax

Where does your money go?

Each year every household receives a Notice of Property Valuation and Tax Changes from the Utah County Auditor. This notice provides the estimated value of your home, the change from the prior year, and lists the various portions of the property taxes you have to pay. Most, if not all of the homes in Cedar Hills increased in value over the past year. For a home in Cedar Hills valued around $260,000 the breakdown for last year looked similar to this:

Prop tax notice

Approximately 20% of your overall property tax bill goes to the city. The city has no control over the remaining amount you pay to other entities such as the school district, which collects the largest portion, or the county. Also, notice that there are two line items for Cedar Hills. In order to be transparent, the city separates the amount due for the golf course bond payment (listed as CEDAR HILLS CITY BOND) from everything else. For fiscal year 2017 the tax rate for the General Fund went down from 0.001594 to .001512, which will bring in $695,654 in property tax revenue for the city. The portion labeled Cedar Hills City Bond goes to the golf debt service fund to pay off the general obligation bond. This year the tax rate for the bond went down from 0.000721 to 0.000674, which will bring in $309,970 of revenue for the golf bond payment. When we refer to property tax rates we reference the combination of both, which went down from 0.002315 to 0.002186 for fiscal year 2017.

How are property taxes assessed?

When it comes to the city’s portion, there are generally two approaches cities use to determine how much city tax you must pay each year. The first and most common approach is for the tax rate to adjust each year as property values change so that the total tax collected by the city is approximately the same every year. Each year the county re-estimates property values and then calculates what this tax rate should be so that the revenue collected by the city remains constant. The benefit of this approach for residents is that you will pay about the same amount of city property tax every year, regardless of the value of your property. The benefit to the city is that revenues stay consistent whether home values go up or down.

The second approach is for the tax rate to stay the same regardless of changes in property values. This means when your property values go up you pay more in taxes, and as your property values go down you pay less in taxes. One of the problems with this approach is that if property values go up significantly during a bubble, the city can receive much more revenue, leading some to worry that government could needlessly expand during these times. In addition, the constant fluctuation of tax revenue makes it difficult to budget each year for city services, causing some services to be cut if revenues go down.

For the past several years, the City Council has chosen to adopt the County’s calculated tax rate so that city revenues stay constant and resident city taxes stay about the same.

Is it true that Cedar Hills has the highest tax rate in North Utah County?

While it is true that Cedar Hills does have one of the highest tax rates in North Utah County, this is not the same as the tax burden. The city’s portion of your property tax bill is approximately 20% of the total bill, and it is a smaller portion now than it was in 2007-2008 (from 25% then to 20% now). Because Cedar Hills’ property values are near the middle for North Utah County, our actual tax burden is likewise near the middle.

There are two primary factors that explain Cedar Hills’ higher tax rate. First, Cedar Hills is a relatively young city that has experienced most of its growth in the last 15 years. This means we have had to bond in recent years for infrastructure such as water facilities and buildings, whereas surrounding cities are older and have had many years to pay off this debt. Second, in 2005 the residents of Cedar Hills voted to bond for the golf course and the payments for this bond use about 1/3 of our total property tax revenue. While some may regret this decision, it is our obligation to pay off this bond and work to make the course as successful as possible so that we can preserve our open space and the value of our assets.

It is also important to remember that the tax rate is only one way to compare property taxes across cities. Another way to compare property taxes is to examine how much revenue is collected per household. The chart below (updated September 2015) shows the property tax collected per household for cities in Utah County. As you can see, Cedar Hills residents pay less city tax per household than our neighbors in Alpine, American Fork, and Highland.

prop tax by city

Finally, property taxes only make up only 28.07% of tax revenue for the city; most of our revenue comes from sales and use taxes (48.71%). As the city continues to attract commercial development, this will help reduce our reliance on property tax revenues and allow Cedar Hills to provide additional services at a lower cost to residents.

tax revenue

Is anything being done to reduce my tax burden?

Many in the city would like for the commercial zone to be developed with businesses that bring in additional sales tax revenue and commercial property tax revenue. In the meantime, city officials and staff work to make sure that operations are efficient and look to identify ways to reduce the amount of debt owed by the city. Below is an analysis of property tax rates for each taxing entity over the past 15 years as of September 2015. In the year 2000 the percentage of the overall property tax bill for general operations was 16.48%. It spiked in 2003, which is about the time the city started experiencing tremendous growth, but has steadily gone down and last year was at 13.26% of the total property tax bill, the lowest it has been since 1999.

In 2006 an additional tax levy was assessed to pay for the golf course bond. This started with a rate of 10.26% of the total property tax bill. Staff and officials have worked to reduce that burden, including refinancing the bond at a lower interest rate of 2.47%. As a result, the debt levy percentage of the total property tax bill is now approximately 6%.

tax by year

We just received the new tax rate from the County a few weeks ago, so don’t yet have new numbers to update the chart above. Once we have that information, I will provide an updated spreadsheet.

I hope this answers any questions on how the city tax rate is calculated. Feel free to call me or email with any additional questions.

 

 

Utah League of Cities and Towns

Recently there has been some discussion about concerns regarding Cedar Hills’ membership with the Utah League of Cities and Towns (ULCT). After reading through the discussion, I wanted to offer another perspective on ULCT, how I believe maintaining our membership benefits our city, and how we can and should address any concerns that may come up.

ULCT was organized in 1907 and represents Utah municipalities at the state and federal level. Their board and committee memberships are made up entirely of elected officials and staff throughout the state. They provide training and legal advice to cities, while also acting as a lobbyist for cities and towns with the state legislature. Every year, the Legislature discusses many bills that have the potential to impact municipalities. I believe in this last legislative session there was around 250 new bills being introduced. As you can imagine, it is very difficult for municipal elected officials and staff to stay involved every day of the legislative session to understand what is being presented and the impact those new laws can have on cities. ULCT makes staying involved much easier.

Before the legislative season even begins, ULCT staff meet with the ULCT Legislative Policy Committee (LPC) to discuss matters that are important to cities so that ULCT can represent the concerns of cities as they meet with state and federal officials. The LPC is likewise comprised of elected officials and city managers from cities throughout the state. Every city can have multiple representatives sit on the LPC. Members of the LPC and other ULCT committees are appointed by the ULCT Board, which also consists of elected officials, including Mayor Gygi. Once ULCT staff members receive their marching orders from the Board and from the LPC, they then advocate for municipalities as they meet with state representatives. ULCT does have a lot of influence, but that is because those who are setting the course are those who are elected by residents of each city to represent local government. The Board and the LPC care about local control and are concerned about state laws that can cause hardships on cities, especially small cities like Cedar Hills.

ULCT staff members are at the Hill every day advocating for cities. At the end of each day, ULCT sends out an email to city elected officials with a summary of what occurred and what is coming up so that we may make our voices heard if we have concerns. For example, a few years ago there was a bill being proposed that would require cities to waive the cost up to $1,000 for any GRAMA request that primarily benefits the public. The problem is that the law has a very broad definition as to what is considered benefitting the public – essentially anyone who requests a record with intent to publish a story is presumed to be acting to benefit the public. As many of you know, we have a few individuals who submit several GRAMA requests every year. We fill more GRAMA requests for this one group than many other cities do for their entire city. GRAMA laws are important and I agree that public records should be made available to the public so that the work of government officials and representatives is open and transparent. However, there are times when the law can be abused and can have a negative impact on small cities, such as Cedar Hills. We are a small city of 2500 households. Our records department consists of one person. One particular GRAMA request from this group consisted of over 6000 pages of records. While it cost thousands of dollars to fulfill this request, the requestor was only billed the compilation costs of approximately $700. The group demanded that we waive the fee under the “benefiting the public” clause because they were going to publish the records on their public website. Had this law passed, we would have been required to provide these records, and any other requests they made, at no cost to the requestor. There is no such thing as a “free” GRAMA request as there is always a cost for staff to provide the record. If the requestor no longer has to pay for these compilation costs, then those costs shift unfairly to the taxpayers of Cedar Hills. I have spoken with numerous residents who are frustrated that so many of their tax dollars are already being used to fulfill these requests. They have asked us, as their elected officials, to do what we can to have the one or two making the requests pay for them instead of shifting that burden upon the rest of the taxpayers who don’t support their agenda. In a city of our size, if we receive several large requests that we have to provide at no cost to the requestor, we would be forced to raise taxes or cut services to fund a larger records department. ULCT listened to our concerns and raised them with the legislature so that lawmakers would fully understand the impact a change to the GRAMA law could make on a municipal budget such as ours. This is just one example, but there are many others where ULCT staff has influenced the outcome of a bill that could hurt cities.

ULCT offers extensive training programs for elected officials and city staff. When I was first elected to the City Council in 2011, one of the very first emails I received was from ULCT inviting me to the annual Open and Public Meetings training given by David Church. David is an attorney with Blaisdell, Church, and Johnson, and is known throughout the state for being one of the most knowledgeable attorneys with regards to municipal law. This training and the book I received that was put together by ULCT is beneficial to all newly elected officials as understanding the laws with regards to government transparency is essential. This is only one of the many training sessions put together by ULCT each year. Every year I have attended their annual conference, which is a three-day event that includes information on legislative updates, breakout sessions on various topics that impact municipal governments small and large, and trainings specifically geared towards city managers, city planners, and city recorders. Our city manager, city planner, and city recorder attend additional ULCT changes throughout the year to understand the ever-changing laws to make sure that Cedar Hills is complying. Cities can and have been fined large sums of money for not complying with laws made at the state and federal level and ULCT trainings and publications help us stay ahead of those changes. To me, one of the most important things ULCT does is to put together a legislative update that lets each city know what laws have been made or updated that require cities to update laws or policies.

Through ULCT we have access to incredible resources. As I mentioned above, Blaisdell, Church and Johnson is known for being one of, if not the best legal resources for cities. Municipal law is their specialty and they know it well. As they are also the law firm that represents ULCT, we have access to their team through our membership. We have good legal counsel through Kirton McConkie, but there are times we have reached out to ULCT for additional insight. ULCT also has Jodi Hoffman on staff, who is one of the best land use attorneys in the state. We have had Jodi present to the Council to give us guidance on land use laws when discussing our commercial district. Meg Ryan is employed by ULCT and is known as an expert in the legalities of conditional uses. She recently provided a training course to our Planning Commission because we are in the process of updating our conditional use laws. It has been helpful to have these ULCT representatives present to us so that we can ask specific questions that relate to our city and our circumstances. Through our membership with ULCT, we have access to some of the most knowledgeable people in the state on laws that we must comply with in order to stay out of legal trouble.

In addition to the items mentioned above, ULCT has helped us in other ways. They provide sample ordinance and resolutions, which is helpful when we are required to update our laws when required by the state or federal governments. They advocate for cities when changes to taxes are being discussed as they understand that municipal taxes most directly impact residents of those cities. They serve as liaisons to various interest groups as they represent cities, and they facilitate communications between cities who share common issues and goals.

While I believe that ULCT has provided a benefit to our city, I recognize there are times that stances they have taken may not represent what is best for Cedar Hills. I’m sure it impossible for an organization that represents almost every city in the state to take a stance that represents every city every time. There has been some concern that ULCT advocated for Prop 1 and that in this way, ULCT doesn’t represent residents. I don’t think that is a fair statement to make. Some counties passed Prop 1, which means some residents throughout the state did support and want this tax. Advocating for this issue to be on the ballot allowed residents in each county to determine whether additional transportation funding was something they wanted to pay for. Just because the stance ULCT has taken on a few issues wasn’t supported by us doesn’t mean we should completely withdraw our membership. In fact, I think that it ends up hurting us in the long run as ULCT will continue to represent the majority of cities in the state, but Cedar Hills would no longer have a voice at the table.

So what can we do when ULCT is advocating for something our residents don’t support? I believe the answer to that is to get involved. As I stated earlier, ULCT takes its marching orders from the LPC and the Board. The LPC meets every month throughout the year, and meets every week during the legislative session. ULCT isn’t going advocate for something contrary to what the LPC wants. Right now, we only have one person serving on the LPC from Cedar Hills. We haven’t had the full representation we are entitled to, and that oversight falls on us as elected officials. We can assign our mayor, two council members, our city manager, our assistant city manager, and our city attorney to represent us as part of the LPC and we should do so. Instead of walking away and losing the benefits that come from being a member city, we should instead ask that our elected officials become more involved in the process and advocate for the residents of Cedar Hills. I have already told the Council that I am willing to be one of those assigned to the LPC if that is the direction the Council wants to take. I would also like to see another member of the Council join, as well as our city manager and city planner. In this way, I feel that we retain the benefits of ULCT and also have a greater influence on what ULCT advocates for on behalf of cities.

Family Festival Volunteers Needed

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Photo by Alan Fullmer

It is getting close to the most wonderful time of the year in Cedar Hills – Family Festival! I am excited that we get to start off the summer festivities this year by being the first city in the area to host a full week of fun activities. This year Family Festival will be held May 31st through June 4th. Here is the list of events:

  • Tuesday – Swim Night at the PG pool
  • Wednesday – Car Show at Heritage Park and 3V3 Soccer Tournament at Mesquite Park
  • Thursday – Golf Tournament at the golf course, Fun Run at Cedar Ridge, and the Teen Festy Frenzy at Heritage Park
  • Friday – Carnival and Dinner & Movie at Heritage Park
  • Saturday – Parade, Carnival, Games, Entertainment and Fireworks

The Family Festival Committee is made up of volunteers throughout the community who put in a lot of time and effort to plan and organize these activities. They start in January and don’t stop until the festival is over. I appreciate all of their hard work and dedication as this truly is a wonderful week in our community.

In order to make each event successful, we still need many volunteers. Most of the shifts are two hours long and volunteering is a great way to meet others in the city and serve the community. Here are areas where we still need help:

  • Serving lunch at the Golf Tournament on Thursday afternoon
  • Being a chaperone at the Teen Festy Frenzy
  • Clean up after the Dinner & Movie
  • Helping those involved with the Parade on Saturday
  • Helping with Kids Games on Saturday. This is a great volunteer opportunity for kids ages 12+.
  • Helping at the Information Booth on Friday and Saturday
  • Park clean-up Saturday night

Every volunteer receives a free t-shirt and the everlasting gratitude of those who enjoy participating in the Family Festival. It really is a fun experience. I volunteer at almost every event and highly recommend it.

If you are interested in volunteering you can sign up online at https://cedarhills.seamlessdocs.com/f/volunteer

THANK YOU!