I’ve been following some of the Facebook discussions relative the sale of Open Space as well as reading the emails sent to elected officials regarding this issue. One of the arguments raised for doing it now is that the “city” has had a chance to fix it and hasn’t, so time is up.
While I agree that there are issues with Open Space maintenance, I disagree with the conclusion that time is up. There are a number of issues the city has worked over the years that required a lot of time and effort to close. If we arbitrarily decided that enough time had been spent and quit then our roads wouldn’t be getting fixed and the East-West connector design would not be underway.
The city has had a lot of issues to deal with over the last few years and has made significant progress on them. Here are a few:
- Spending: Going back to 2010 we had significant budget issues where we weren’t always able to pay our bills on time. That council had to re-prioritize spending to get the essentials paid. Since then the city has tried to reduce costs without creating long term issues.
- Road: Putting a plan together to have our roads fixed and then getting the funding to do that – this took over 5 years to get right.
- Public Safety: Dealing with disfunction in the fire department along with funding issues. The personnel issues seem to be largely behind us and we put a dent in funding but still have a ways to go.
- Enterprise Funds (Sewer, Water, Pressurized Irrigation, Storm Drain): We did a long-term study on these and found that a couple of the funds were going to go negative in the near future. We largely addressed that with a rate change. This took about 2 years.
- East-West connector: Design is now under way and construction should start next year. This road has on city plans for about 40 years. In 2008 the connector received $4.17M in funding from MAG/Utah County. In 2018 MAG, Utah County, and Highland authorized UDOT to manage the design and construction of the road. Design began in Nov of 2018. Construction should start in 2019.
- Library: Personnel issues in the library and discord between the council and board. These were long standing issues (at least 5 years) which came to a head this year. They seem to be largely resolved now but it took the considerable effort of a number of people. I don’t see that this should consume more staff or council time than any other department going forward. Note, I hear nothing but good about our new Library Director.
Here are some significant issues we are currently facing:
- Public safety funding: With Cedar Hills leaving we have a clearer picture of the future needs of the Fire Department. I believe there is a gap between where we should be and where we are with respect to funding (how much is a good question). This is something that we are working on.
- Mountain Ridge Park and associated issues: The sale of Spring Creek park land plus the development of a small park, needed work on other parks, programming and funding for Mountain Ridge Park.
- Park and trail maintenance costs (what they should be to maintain them well and how should the costs be allocated): We are close to understanding the true cost of maintaining open space. Because of the mowing and trimming outsourcing project we did earlier this year we have a good understanding of the costs of mowing and trimming for manicured parks and park strips. We have largely identified, by classifying our parks, which open space ones should be considered city parks and which should remain in Open Space. We don’t have solid numbers for what we should be spending on trails. I also believe we need to relook at our trails and reclassify which ones fall into open space vs. city. Clearly addressing this was not as important as roads, public safety or enterprise funds. However it is important and I believe we are at a point where we can spend more time on this important issue and work to resolve it like we did the roads and enterprise funds. Note, over the last 5 years we have spent and average of ~$29,000 per year on trail maintenance.
The bottom line is I don’t agree that time has run out on Open Space /Parks/Trails and would hate for the council to make a decision that cannot be reversed until we understand the issue better (e.g. what the funding deficit is – I am sure there will be some catch-up costs and then ongoing ones). I believe in 2019 we will have time to develop a complete enough picture to start work on a comprehensive plan with options that we can take to the residents. We will have several options if we need to raise additional funds: fee, RAP tax (Recreation, Arts and Parks 0.1% sales tax which would net us about $100K), and/or property tax increase. Additionally, staff is working on getting our own zip code (no guarantee) or otherwise addressing the internet sales tax issue. Councilman Ostler has been looking into this and believes we are losing well over $100K and potentially over $200K per year.
As mentioned we do have actual numbers for the cost of mowing and trimming (inclusive of equipment costs). The total annual cost for all Open Space subdivisions is $234,082. The Open Space fee generates $282,480 per year. This means that mowing and trimming consumes 83% of the Open Space fees leaving the remainder to cover sprinklers, fertilizing, trail maintenance and snow removal …, which of course it doesn’t. This is why the city covers 30% to 45% (depending on the year) of the cost of Open Space maintenance. You can find my roadmap for resolving the Open Space issue in my 2018 goals post. We are part way through the cost identification process and should be able to complete this sometime in 2019. Then as mentioned we will be able to work on options for going forward that we can present to the residents.