Economic development is vital to the future of Utah County

(This is from the Daily Herald column that was published April 27, 2019.)

Over the next few decades Utah County will grow by a million people and match the population of Salt Lake County.

Lest you think these are inflated projections, consider where these people are coming from. Yes, many will move here from other states, but the biggest chunk are home grown and will consist of the children and grandchildren of current residents.

Much of that growth will be in the north and west section of the county. That means many people will choose to live in the Cedar Valley. So far, the Cedar Valley has no businesses with employment of any significance. For example, most wage earners in Eagle Mountain leave the city every morning to commute to work and return home every evening. What does that traffic and air quality look like when the population of Cedar Valley doubles and then triples? It will happen. Eagle Mountain is one of the fastest growing cities in the state and the third largest in square mileage.

As the state debates a new tax structure, contemplate how we are going to pay for all of the new roads, power lines, water and sewer lines, schools, fire stations, police stations, libraries and everything else it takes to support a safe and healthy modern lifestyle. If we don’t plan for these things now, our children and grandchildren will have to live in high-density housing with a hefty tax rate or live somewhere else.

So what can we do that will allow our families to live close by, enjoy cleaner air, not have to commute through hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic, and without having to be slaves to an out-of-balance tax structure?

The answer is an obvious one — economic development. If we bring more businesses here to Utah County, closer to where people live, then we reduce traffic on our roads and put less pollution in the air. Plus, those businesses create tax revenue and the jobs they create also create tax revenue. Those in-town jobs cause restaurants and stores to pop up, which in turn create more tax revenue. The end result is lower taxes and higher quality of life.

There are plenty of examples to study, considering everything from bedroom communities to cities of industry. Bedroom communities can go two directions over time. They either become very expensive or they struggle to survive. On the other end of the scale, there are some cities that have nearly as many businesses as they do residents. Those cities have no financial difficulties.

I believe that there is an ideal balance that can pay the bills and provide for a high quality of life. However, Eagle Mountain is nowhere near that sweet spot. That is why we are putting as much effort into economic development as we are in planning a balanced city with outdoor recreation, preserved open space, wildlife, agriculture, schools, churches and viable transportation options. Our goal is a city as quaint and inviting as a Norman Rockwell painting with a robust economy behind it. Achieving such an ideal is no simple task, but without economic development it is impossible.

Unfortunately there is a lot of confusion about economic development and because of the confusion and misunderstandings, we often see resistance to our efforts to bring national brand companies to Utah County. In my conversations with individuals and groups throughout the state and locally, there are consistent questions that come up. I would like to address some of those questions.

What are tax incentives? Tax incentives are negotiated with a company based on costs to the city and other taxing entities along with costs to the company to set up shop. A company will often have to spend millions of dollars to build roads, bring in power, water, sewer, etc. before they can even begin to put up their own structures. The tax incentive allows them to recoup their investment. If they could not get the money back that they have invested it would be like being taxed twice. Remember, the purpose of taxes is to pay for services rendered.

Why do we offer tax incentives? It seems like big business just gets whatever it wants at the expense of the little guy. Can’t we offer them less? Courting businesses is a free market all of its own. Businesses will choose to go where it makes the most financial sense. Much like someone shopping for a new home. Eagle Mountain has advantages and disadvantages. We have affordable land but very little infrastructure. Other cities might have infrastructure in place but the land is more expensive. The tax incentives offset the cost of infrastructure.

Why can’t everyone get the same tax incentives? Actually, anyone could but few have the financial resources to invest in infrastructure that would benefit the city.

Won’t these companies come anyway? The short answer is no. A quick glance at all of the cities where fortune 100 companies don’t go makes that clear. Eagle Mountain has fought hard for several fortune 100 companies and lost out in the final rounds.

What if the company goes out of business? If the company goes out of business, we lose nothing. In fact, we get a lot a free infrastructure because the tax incentive only kicks in as they make money.

Don’t these companies cause a burden on our schools and other services? With every business that shows serious interest in Eagle Mountain we commission an impact study. The independent impact study shows us exactly what a business will cost the city and all taxing entities. These costs are factored into the tax incentive. In other words, we make sure the business pays for those costs and more.

How can you justify giving a wealthy company all that money? They don’t need any help. A tax incentive does not give any money to a company. Also, the tax incentive isn’t designed or intended to help the company; the purpose is to help the city and its residents.

Is that corporate welfare? No, corporate welfare would be a government bailing out a struggling company.

Don’t tax incentives for business just move the tax burden to the shoulders of residents? No. In fact, it is just the opposite. Businesses relieve residents from burdensome taxes. That is the point of economic development. There are only two ways to pay taxes. In a strong local business economy businesses pay a large share. In bedroom communities or weak local economies, residents must pay the entire bill themselves. Anyone rejecting economic development is by default choosing higher taxes.

Are tax incentives a form of corporatism? No, because they do not create legislation to favor one company over another or give them an unfair advantage.

What are the long-term impacts? Tax incentives can be structured in numerous ways. Sometimes, it is in the form of a cap, meaning the incentive runs out once a company reaches a point where they would have paid a specified amount in taxes. Others might limit the tax incentive to a number of years. For example, the Facebook incentive is limited to 20 years. In 20 years Eagle Mountain could easily reach a population of 120,000. Where would Eagle Mountain and Utah County be in 20 years if there were no such businesses here? Having strong companies here give a promising outlook for a future that works.

I mentioned taxing entities. The typical taxing entities include the state, county, city, fire department, police department, water district, and school district. All of these must approve a tax incentive for a tax incentive to be put in place and economic development to happen. Also, if you live in an HOA, you probably pay more to your HOA than you do to your city.

Tax revenue is not money that belongs to the taxing entities. It belongs to the people and businesses that earned it, and should only be levied to pay for needed services. Anything more is a form of tyranny.

Taxes are necessary for a society to thrive, but a society cannot thrive unless taxes are structured with economic development in mind. It is the responsibility of government to seek means to reduce that burden as much as possible and whenever possible, following the dictates of the great American charter focused on securing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Neighborhood Streetlights

I have been asked by a few people to look into what it might take to add streetlights in their neighborhoods.

First, a little history might be in order to give some context as to why there are so few neighborhood streetlights. When Eagle Mountain was created, the founders wanted our city to have a semi-rural feel. They wanted it to feel as much as possible like living out in the country and be able to enjoy the night sky. They did not want it to look or feel like living in a big city. They also wanted to keep housing prices down in order to draw buyers to an area that was considered way out in the sticks. To achieve these goals, street lights were kept to a minimum.

This can be different than other cities, so when people move here they are sometimes surprised about the lack of street lighting. Others find it to be quite natural and enjoy being able to see the stars at night.

So whether someone sees it as good or as bad, it is the way Eagle Mountain was built. But what if someone wants to change that and add lights to their neighborhood? This is no small task. It is an expensive demolition and construction process. Sidewalks and roads would have to be torn up so that power lines could be put in place. Roads and sidewalks would have to be replaced, light fixtures and power meters would be installed.

In order to pay for the new lights and the power they would use a special assessment area would be created. The special assessment area would levy a tax on all of the residents in the area to pay for the lights and the power they would use. This would be similar to an HOA for streetlights.

Though certainly not impossible, it would be difficult to get everyone in a neighborhood to agree to pay for streetlights.

Neighbors helping neighbors

 

We have a great community that keeps getting better because of those that are willing to serve and put in the time to make a difference.

Last week, our Eagle Mountain Senior Citizens Council teamed up with Mortenson Construction (the contractor for Facebook) to fill baskets overflowing with Thanksgiving Holiday food and deliver them to Eagle Mountain Families. The recipients were families recommended by their neighbors for a boost of holiday cheer. As you can see from the photos, these were no skimpy gift baskets but were large and loaded up with fresh, delicious food for a complete dinner. I was lucky to be invited along to help deliver them.

Thank you Eagle Mountain Senior Citizens Council and thank you Mortenson Construction for providing food and the volunteers to deliver it.

 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

This blog post is a repeat of information found in the September newsletter in case you missed it. At the end of this post you will find some new information that was not in the newsletter.

I have been asked to share more information regarding economic development in Eagle Mountain, our plan, and what it means for the future of our city.

We approach economic development a little differently than most cities–because we are different than most cities. Eagle Mountain is one of the fastest growing cities in the state (averaging about 4,000 new residents a year, with a current population of about 37,000); one of the youngest cities in the country by average age of residents; geographically the third largest city in the state and the largest in Utah County. Add to that the fact that Eagle Mountain is a bedroom community with little industry other than residential development. We are pretty much one big neighborhood at the west end of SR-73.

Our rapid growth and lack of commercial tax revenue has required creativity to fund needed infrastructure and other city services. And yet Eagle Mountain remains one of the most affordable cities in the state. However, if this growth trend were to continue without economic development, at some point, a lean city government and creative thinking would not be enough to hold down property taxes. For this reason, economic development is vital to the future of our city.

I know economic development can be confusing to the lay observer. It is natural to question why some businesses come and others don’t.

All brand retail establishments have strict guidelines that determine where they will consider locating new facilities. There is no salesmanship or pleading that will convince them to abandon the formula for success and financing that they have established through years of business experience. Because we are a community with very little drive- through traffic we do not meet the requirements for larger retail at this time.

However, we have a plan. Our plan is to focus our energies on recruiting companies that do not need drive-through traffic. We are looking for what we call an “industry cluster.” These are companies that will bring other companies and cluster together. To use a metaphor, instead of hunting single businesses that are so hard to catch they take a lot of time and energy, and even if we catch them they yield little meat, what we have done is built a watering hole for businesses to gather around.

The industry that is a good fit and clusters nicely is the data center industry. I won’t go into all the reasons why data centers are a good fit but I will mention how they fit into our overall and long term plan.

First, data centers have very little negative impact. Specifically they do not add residential growth to an already bursting-at-the-seams city. However, they do bring good paying jobs to the city and they bring a lot of support companies including large construction contractors.

Not only will this bring other data centers but from now on it will mean wallets in the city during the day. Right now most of our working population leaves the city to work, eat lunch and shop outside of the city. Now that we will have a growing workforce that comes here to work, and will want to spend money at close convenient locations, Eagle Mountain will be more attractive to retail and support businesses. Soon there will be over 1,000 construction workers at the Facebook site. They will want somewhere to eat. That means restaurants will want to compete for those dollars, which will employ more people. Then a car wash, a gas station, an auto repair, more restaurants, another school, another grocery store, etc. will come in their time and all bring jobs to the area.

So though we don’t control what companies come, we can create an environment that will bring businesses to Eagle Mountain and through that effort, your favorite restaurant or store will eventually want to be here.

Now, these details may make it sound like Eagle Mountain is destined to become one big commercial complex but that is not the goal. The goal is to become a uniquely balanced city with numerous recreational options year round, including an abundance of preserved open space. In fact, Facebook and other technology companies that will follow will partner with the city to make it a better and healthier place.

A few news items I did not mention in the newsletter are that Quick Quack car wash has been approved to go in near Ridley’s and Comcast has informed us that they intend to bring their services to Eagle Mountain next year. Also, we will soon be adding another two hundred and forty acres to our city as preserved open space for wildlife and recreation along our border with Camp Williams.

UDOT Proposal for SR-73: Freeway With Frontage Roads

SR-73.RoadwayLanesDepressedElevated-01

Planning ahead and working toward solutions for our future transportation needs are vital elements in managing growth well. Eagle Mountain will need more roads with appropriate traffic controls and lanes to accommodate demand at peak usage. To address these challenges, we are working closely with UDOT on the S.R. 73 State Environmental Study (SES) to evaluate a Freeway with Frontage Roads concept that was proposed during a Corridor Planning Study in 2016.

The Corridor Planning Study reviewed various transportation concepts while taking into consideration Eagle Mountain residents’ opinions. The Freeway with Frontage Roads concept was proposed for various reasons. First, it will reduce traffic congestion through the year 2040. Second, it solves both short- and long-term transportation needs. Additionally, it will accommodate future transit and is compatible with bike lane and trail improvements within Eagle Mountain and the rest of our community.

The concept consists of one-way frontage roads in each direction, with a freeway in the middle between the frontage roads. The lower-speed frontage roads maintain access to local roads and businesses and serve as on- and off-ramps for the freeway. The middle freeway lanes allow commuters to bypass local roads, saving travel time and leaving less congestion on the frontage roads.

The draft map of the concept on UDOT’s website shows proposed access connections, on- and off- ramp locations, traffic lanes and intersections. A public hearing will be held this summer where UDOT will show the refined alignment and hold a formal public comment period. I encourage Eagle Mountain Residents to attend to learn more, to ask questions and to submit any public comments.

Changes like these are sometimes hard, especially for those whose homes are in the path of the proposed freeway. We regret the disruptions and inconveniences this expansion may cause. We will work with UDOT to do everything we can to minimize the negative impact on our residents as we plan for the future. UDOT and the City of Eagle Mountain look forward to hearing from you.

More information about the public hearing will be posted in the future, please check UDOT’s website or join the Facebook group UDOT S.R. 73 Environmental Study for details.

Fiscally Strong

Eagle Mountain recently received an A+ credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, the highest rating we have ever received from this highly respected agency. This enabled us to refinance water and sewer bonds at a lower interest rate, saving the city $300,000. Those savings are being used to pay off those bonds sooner.

Last year, we took over the Ranches HOA maintenance contract. This caused our landscape maintenance to jump up to $643,636. Through competitive bidding and economy of scale our maintenance contract is now at $461,633. An annual savings of $182,003.

Over the past seven years the per capita (per person) cost of government in Eagle Mountain has been reduced by 25%. That is due to growth and sound practices. The cost of government in Eagle Mountain is 10% below average in Utah. Eagle Mountain may be the most efficient city in the state, and certainly one of the best values by constantly striving to improve services and the experience of living here while keeping taxes low.

New businesses Pizza Hut and Thai Chili Gardens are coming to city center, while Dairy Queen and Quench It Soda Shack will be locating in and near Ridley’s, respectively. We will let you know when we have opening dates.

Good Things Are Happening

There are many great things happening in the city.
The City Council voted recently to preserve 55 acres of open space near Lone Tree. This land is a popular location for outdoor recreation and a frequent stop for wild animals.
We have a new 100 acre Boy Scout camp starting construction in Eagle Mountain. It is located in the White Hills/Pole Canyon area just south of Cedar Fort. Facilities at the camp will be usable this summer. Features include a zip line and ropes course, along with an activity center that can be reserved by the public for family reunions, wedding receptions, etc. This will be a nice amenity in the city and also a job opportunity for ages 14+. The camp is currently hiring. Youth and adults can apply online at http://bit.ly/newcampapp. For more information, contact Nick Hutchinson, Camp Director, at nick.hutchinson@scouting.org.
Our streets department crews are doing an impressive job, going far beyond the service done in other cities. For example, between Feb. 18th and 25th they spread 1,018,000 pounds of ice-melt on our roads; they plowed snow off of 2,080 lane miles of roads; That amounted to 166.25 hours of snow plowing, which was usually at night and on weekends and holidays; One of those days they plowed from 10:45 p.m. to 8:45 a.m. I am proud of the dedicated people in our streets department.

I ask for your patience as we move into road construction season. Pony Express Pkwy will be a major focus as lanes are added and additional traffic signals installed. We will also be working with UDOT and Saratoga Springs on solutions to alleviate traffic back-up. Meanwhile UDOT tells us that they will begin work on Mountain View Corridor between 2100 North and Wride Highway (SR73) this summer, with completion expected by this time next year.

Pony Express Parkway Expansion Update

The Pony Express Parkway widening project from Porter’s Crossing to Redwood Road will begin construction this spring. Since this section of Pony Express is in both Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs, the project will be funded by Mountainland Association of Governments and managed by UDOT.

Eagle Mountain City had planned to pay the additional cost of a traffic light at SilverLake Pkwy. However, we recently received good news that the bids for the project came in below budget. This means that we will be able to include the additional traffic light at no additional cost to the City. Yea!

Over the last six months there has been considerable discussion on the location of that light. Both Woodhaven Blvd. and SilverLake Pkwy were seriously considered. Both have positive and negative characteristics. Ultimately, SilverLake Pkwy won out after considering winter road maintenance, event traffic at the amphitheater, and the fact that the SilverLake Pkwy intersection would also be the entrance to the Mt. Saratoga residential development on the north side of Pony Express Pkwy in Saratoga Springs. Concerns regarding access to and from Pony Express Pkwy from Copperbend Rd. and Woodhaven Blvd. will be addressed with acceleration and turn lanes being added as part of the widening project.

Updates will be provided on this project as the process continues.

Mayor Tom Westmoreland

Transportation Improvements Update

Ranches and Pony web

With the tremendous growth of Eagle Mountain over the past year, transportation improvements are an important area of focus for the City. Last month the City acquired land from the State Institutional Trust Lands Administration in the Mid-Valley area (between City Center and The Ranches), which allows the City to control planning for that section of Pony Express Parkway. The City is currently looking into options to fund a widening project that will provide better flow and access through the area with the new high school opening in 2019 and residential development increasing. We will provide updates as we have new information.

Other projects already in process this year for widening Pony Express Parkway include a partnership with UDOT and Saratoga Springs to widen the road from Porter’s Crossing to Redwood Rd. Another in the design phase is for the area of Hidden Hollow Elementary to Unity Pass, and another in the design phase is at Mid-Valley Rd. (Frontier Middle School intersection).

A road connecting Pony Express Parkway to Eagle Mountain Blvd. is planned at the new high school site, which should help with the flow of school traffic. This is expected to be completed by the time the school is open.

Traffic lights are a growing concern. We have been in contact with Saratoga Springs regarding the turn signal at Foothill Blvd. The lack of a turn signal has caused traffic to back up and block eastbound traffic all the way to Porter’s Crossing. Saratoga Springs has informed us that they have initiated the process for installing a turn signal. It is expected to be installed no later than four to six weeks from now.  Around the same time-frame a turn signal is expected to be installed at Porter’s Crossing. The reduced flow of traffic has made an already difficult turn out of SilverLake even more bothersome. We have already made plans to install a traffic light at SilverLake during the widening process this summer.

Finally, UDOT is conducting a State Environmental Study (SES) along Cory Wride Memorial Highway (S.R. 73) from Pioneer Crossing to Eagle Mountain Blvd. The SES will further evaluate the natural and built environment, and determine a preferred alignment for the future frontage road freeway system. They have established a Facebook page. This page is for informal discussion. To submit a formal comment, please email sr73@utah.gov or go to udot.utah.gov/sr73 to fill out a comment form. More information about the project can also be found on that webpage.

Again, we will provide updates as we have more details about these projects but wanted residents to know transportation concerns are being addressed as the city continues to grow.

Mayor Tom Westmoreland

 

Changes to Development Code

My first three weeks in office have been a whirlwind of activity, getting settled in and keeping pace with the demands of an active city.

The City Council, Planning Commission, staff, and I have wasted no time getting right to work on some difficult issues.

The City Council recently approved a Ridgeline Protection Ordinance. This needed to be done to protect our scenic hilltops from development. Tonight the Planning Commission will be addressing proposed improvements to development codes that will add more protection to our hillsides. Once through Planning Commission it will move on to City Council.

The City Council in a special session last night approved agreements with Goldsworth Real Estate, Inc. and Shupe Builders, LLC to address issues related to both companies’ excavation processes during development in the Skyline Ridge and Kiowa Valley areas of the city. The final approved agreements specifically address processing and limited removal of materials from a development site by a specified date. The use of blasting in the excavating process will continue to be evaluated by City officials and staff and additional proposed changes to code will be forthcoming.

It should be noted that these agreements are for a finite period of time to address current concerns brought forward by residents. Additional development is planned for the area and any future excavation will need to meet the City’s recently updated code regarding blasting and processing of materials. The agreements are in the process of being finalized and once final copies are available, will be posted on the City website, in the News section.

Related to these concerns, the City hired an independent engineering firm to assess potential impacts of the blasting to the area. We are in the process of receiving information from this assessment and will be analyzing the data to understand exactly what it means and how to best use that information going forward with enforcement of our new and existing code.

I appreciate the input we have received from residents through this process and their patience as we’ve worked to address these issues.

I want to thank City Staff and the City Council for their dedication, and the residents who met with us during this special session on a late Monday night.

Mayor Tom Westmoreland