Identifying budget priorities
A survey by Y2 Analytics indicated that road maintenance is a major concern for many residents within the city. (Cassie Goff/City Journals)
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On Feb. 21, the four Cottonwood Heights City Council members sat down with the mayor, city manager and various department heads to discuss budgeting priorities for this upcoming year’s budget. This was their annual budget retreat meeting.
City Manager John Park began by reviewing budget priorities from last year. Park wanted to establish which projects would need to be reconsidered and which had since been completed. Some of the priorities involved in this discussion were dog parks, city events, Fort Union Boulevard redevelopment, Golden Hills Park and the Cottonwood Heights Business Association (CHBA).
Assistant City Manager Bryce Haderlie led a discussion about the citizen survey distributed in summer of last year. The survey was created, distributed and analyzed by Y2 Analytics and provided insight into resident opinions. The full report can be found on the bottom of the city homepage. Haderlie reminded the council about the top areas of complaint from residents and mentioned that a number of the complaints were services the city doesn’t control, as they are “non-city functions.”
After some discussion from the council, Haderlie recalled one question from the survey which seemed to be most telling. The survey asked residents, “If Cottonwood Heights raised taxes and had $100 more from each citizen to spend to improve city services, how would you want to see the city divide your $100 among the city services?” The top three categorical answers for this question were city parks and open spaces, snow-removal services, and surface maintenance of city streets and roads. Haderlie asked the council what their focus would be if they put this information to use.
Mayor Kelyn Cullimore said if they added up the things related to street maintenance, it would be the number one thing residents would want to spend new tax dollars on.
Councilman Mike Shelton recalled a discussion with a resident about road maintenance and the consideration of Proposition 1 from the 2015 voting cycle. The resident in question told Shelton they didn’t vote for the proposition because it had to do not with road maintenance or the Utah Transit Authority but with a tax increase.
“I think we may underestimate how wide that thought is right now,” Shelton said. “A lot of people feel that until they see better use of the money we have allocated, they won’t give us any more. The news has not helped with that. We asked about raising taxes or cutting services — 59 percent of the people said cut services. That is a pretty decent number.”
With that percentage in mind, Shelton said the most important issue facing Cottonwood Heights today is how to reduce taxes.
“We don’t spend a lot of time talking about finding areas where we can spend less. Are there areas that we should deemphasize?” Shelton said.
Cullimore recalled a similar discussion with a resident, who had told the mayor they didn’t want the city to spend money on Butlerville Days or other events; just keep road maintenance, fire and police.
However, “there are those that care about quality of life issues,” Cullimore said. “There has to be an element of trust in your public leaders.”
The city’s public leaders heard budget presentations from the various department heads, including Finance Director Dean Lundell, Public Works Director Matt Shipp and Community and Economic Development Director Brian Berndt. Afterward, the mayor asked for each of the council members to rank their top 10 priorities.
Some of those top priorities included competitive employee compensation, emergency preparedness, budgeting and location considerations for dog parks, signage for Mountview Park, completion of the Big Cottonwood Canyon Trail, maintaining a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 60-70 for all city roads, and economic development for the Gravel Pit, Canyon Centre and Fort Union Boulevard.
“Parks, open spaces and trails (are a priority) based upon the survey; and as a special interest of mine,” said Councilman Michael Petersen. “There are lots of little things we could do.”
Citizen communication was brought up by all of the council members and mayor as one of the most crucial priorities. In the discussion, funding for the city’s newsletter was considered.
“Seventy-three percent of citizens get information from the newsletter,” Councilman Tee Tyler said. “I think a lot of them read it from cover to cover.”
Road maintenance was also a crucial priority for all of the city leaders. They are asking for city staff to complete studies and find additional funding to help make the average PCI for roads higher within the city.
The Cottonwood Heights City staff and council plan to emphasis updating and refining the five-year fiscal plan as well. This will include finding additional sources of funding for storm-water systems and editing an evolutionary budget.