Council Meeting - August 16, 2022
Our most recent city council meeting was colorful, to say the least.
We started the evening with training from the Utah Local Governments Trust. This is basically insurance that backs the city as we try to act in the interest of the people. If a public official is acting in good faith and fulfilling the duties of their office by state statute and local codes, and someone files a complaint against that public official or the city, the trust will defend the interests of the city. For those of us who are new to the city council, the training was designed to teach us more about our role and responsibilities. Likewise, it also serves as a great reminder for seasoned veterans of the council. The bottom line is, we all have certain responsibilities as elected officials. If we act outside of those responsibilities, we open ourselves up to personal liability. These are times when the trust would not step in and defend our actions. This was a very informative part of the meeting that served as a helpful reminder.
Further, our city code can be a bit confusing when it comes to the chain of command for management of the city, as well as city affairs. In Heber City, we have a six member council, one of which is the mayor. We also have a city manager to whom we have delegated all administrative and management roles. In theory, the city manager acts as the CEO of Heber City, not the mayor.
In this weak mayor form of government, our mayor has the following responsibilities (per Utah Code):
The mayor may sit in counsel with the legislative body and offer opinions or suggest areas of legislation, but may not vote on ordinances, resolutions, contracts, or motions; except for 10-3b-301 & 10-3b-302.
The mayor shall preside at all meetings and upon the mayor’s temporary absence or disability, the legislative body shall elect one of its members to act as mayor pro tem, who during such absence or disability, shall possess the power of mayor.
If a vacancy shall occur in the office of the mayor, the legislative body shall elect a mayor who shall possess all the rights and powers of mayor until the next municipal election where a successor is elected and qualified.
The mayor shall preside over all meetings of the governing body, but he/she will not vote except in the case of a tie, when he/she shall cast the deciding vote.
The mayor shall, by and with the advice and consent of the legislative body, appoint all appointive officers provided for by the city ordinances and by statute, and shall appoint all committees authorized by ordinance or resolution of the legislative body.
This training presentation in its entirety can be found on the Heber City website, along with other materials pertaining to this council meeting. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to get through all of the material as we were asking quite a few questions along the way. What I gleaned from this training was a need to revisit some of our municipal codes to make sure the chain of command is clear: The city manager is the chief executive of our city that all employees, hired or appointed, report directly to him/her.
Continuing our work session, we visited with representatives from Finch Creek Townhomes. This is a development in the North Village seeking annexation into the city. The new iterations of what they’re proposing were favorably received by a majority of the council, which means they will soon begin the process of applying for annexation. One aspect of the annexation agreements with the North Village Overlay Zone is that these development groups are being asked to provide low-income housing as a portion of their units. In this meeting, Councilmember Ryan Stack asked whether this particular developer would prefer to build those units offsite on property that the city owns. The developer seemed agreeable to this option. I see this as a great opportunity for a public/private partnership in addressing our low-income housing needs in the Heber Valley. I have long been a proponent for deed-restricted housing for our city, county, and school district employees. This would be a wonderful opportunity for individuals that really keep this community running to own a home in Heber Valley. I’m very interested in continuing to pursue new ideas and opportunities in the area of affordable housing.
As we kicked off our regular meeting with the consent agenda, we had to tackle the approval of minutes from our previous meeting and a resolution to establish an audit committee charter for the city. The city is graded every year based on meeting current standards of governance. Upon reviewing this topic, it became clear that we need an audit committee here in Heber City. Transparency is always important in every level of government. An audit committee is the proper way for the city to receive feedback pertaining to their operations and to make improvements based on that feedback.
The public comment period opened with a prepared statement pertaining to a meeting Councilmember Rachael Kahler witnessed on August 8th. The invited attendees included Mayor Heidi Franco, four members of the County Council, state representative Mike Kohler, the county manager and assistant county manager, as well as the governor. I was not at this meeting and had no knowledge of it. Apparently this was a violation of the Utah Open Meetings Act, which discloses that a meeting must be publicly noted and documented or recorded if a quorum of an elected body convenes. This meeting was initiated, orchestrated, and run by Mayor Franco. It appears the main purpose of the meeting was to present a “no-build option” in reference to the proposed bypass moving Highway 40 off Main Street. Councilmember Kahler found out about it at the last minute and attended against the wishes of Mayor Franco (she has posted a written statement on her Facebook page).
I also posted the following response expressing my disappointment:
“I would love to see Utah DOT be able to complete their work and studies already several years in the making without subverting the process they have set forward. I look forward to them presenting the most viable options before we as public officials come together and represent our constituents' desires. I want to work with the Heber City Council and the County Council to get behind a recommendation from UDOT that will meet our needs. These deliberations need to be in the public view.”
I am incredibly frustrated that our mayor would act independently without informing the public of her actions or intent, let alone the city council. We must work better together as a unified body.
Moving along to general business items, first up was a presentation by Lane Lythgoe from Lythgoe Design Group. This was regarding the design of a new cemetery and parks administration building project. In short, the design was stunning. There was clearly a lot of thought that went into the architecture and design, including the shapes that were used for windows and arches. The columbarium will allow families to store the cremated remains of their loved ones as a memorial. It is very much a sacred space to spend time and reflect. I sincerely appreciate the thoughtful design and look forward to future iterations as we move toward finalizing this magnificent project. I’m confident that it will be a benefit to Heber City residents for generations to come.
Next up, we received an update on the Central Water Sewer Project progress. Things are moving along a bit slower than anticipated because of supply chain issues, but they are progressing. Thank you to Russ Funk and all of the engineering and Public Works staff that are involved in this immense endeavor.
On last year’s November ballot, there was an issue concerning the adoption of a countywide RAP (Recreation, Arts and Parks) Tax. This is a 1/10th of one percent sales tax that would be dedicated to recreation, arts, and parks within Wasatch County. To put it into perspective, let’s say a family spends $1,000 per month in the valley on items other than gasoline or groceries (neither of these would have the sales tax increase). Every month, one dollar of that $1,000 budget would go towards the tax. Last November, the estimated first year revenue from this tax was more than $800,000. This is money that our community sorely needs to provide excellent recreation opportunities for our residents. I want to urge everyone to learn as much as possible about this important issue before it appears on November’s ballot.
We also had a discussion regarding a proposed ordinance for the Tree Management Plan for Heber City. The main reason we would have this plan is to qualify for grants that exist to help take care of the public trees in our city. As you may know, trees need constant care. They need to be pruned, watered, fertilized, and sometimes replaced. All of this requires funding. It would be wonderful if Heber City could qualify for these much-needed grants.
Next, there was an item brought forward concerning the Soldier Hollow Advisory Board Planning Meeting. This was designed as a list of priorities and goals that Heber City should have if we are awarded the Olympics in Utah for 2030 or 2034. Both myself and Councilmember Rachael Kahler stated that we believe these goals are premature. It would be best to allow the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to continue their work and select a site before we start putting forward our goals. There is simply no need to get the cart before the horse.
The first of the action items on the agenda was considering a name and ribbon-cutting date for the Red Ledges park. This is a park located near 1300 E. and Center St. As part of their development agreement, Red Ledges agreed to build and donate a park on this piece of land. As the park nears completion, Red Ledges put forward the name of “Jordan Park” as their request. We have discussed this issue in more than one meeting and other ideas were brought forward, such as McNaughton Park or Heritage Park. I understand the rich and deep heritage of this valley and the need to honor others who owned property in that area previously. I have deep regard for the McNaughton family and their contributions to our valley. That said, I also believe the individuals who were asked to pay for and donate the park should have a say in naming it. While my personal favorite name is “Jordan Heritage Park,” I made the motion to allow the Burns family (the people who developed Red Ledges and paid for and donated it to Heber City) the option to choose between “Jordan Park” and “Jordan Heritage Park.” We also haven’t made a final determination on the name of the new road that is next to the park, but Heritage Farm Parkway seemed to be favorable during our discussions. A final decision will be made during a future meeting. Thank you to Tony and Joyce Burns for their vision and continued contributions to our beautiful valley.
Continuing with the action agenda, we are making progress in updating our ordinances, including the flood damage prevention in Chapter 18. Councilmember Mike Johnston brought forward some great ideas to improve the work our consultants already completed. He put forth a motion (upon which I made a second) to approve the updated code with his proposed changes. I feel this will be a benefit to the citizens of Heber City.
The next item on the agenda was considering approval of a franchise agreement with All West, Inc. The request was for All West to lay fiber and provide internet throughout Heber City. As with Utah Broadband and Strata, All West wants to be a provider of internet service to help various customers find dependable and affordable options. I am always a fan of competition in the marketplace as it lowers the cost of service and improves quality. I wholeheartedly support this franchise agreement.
Finally, the last item on the agenda was to consider approval of resolution 2022–21, updating Heber City’s sewer fees to include the Heber Valley Special Service District (HVSSD) increased rate. The staff report stated the following:
“Previously the HVSSD fee has been included in Heber City’s sewer rate and was not charged on an ERU basis. It was charged as one base rate of $1.50 per account and .52/per 1000 gallons to all customers, which was a minimal impact to customers. Because of the substantial rate increase it has been necessary to change the calculation method to ensure that customers are billed in an equitable way and that the City’s liability to cover the cost of treatment service is met. This has been done by assigning additional ERUs to higher volume commercial users either by using the number of ERUs assigned to the project during the building permit process or by calculating the ERUs based on their actual usage. To add simplicity and consistency to the billing staff requests that the rate be adopted at $18.00 per ERU.”
I am definitely in favor of this change. We were seemingly working on rules that were implemented back in the 1970s, which means we are overdue for an update.
Kind regards, D. Scott Phillips Heber City Council