A Day of Community Service

This Saturday, April 30 is our Community Clean-Up event from 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM. This is an opportunity for individuals, families, youth groups, Scouts, business and church groups to come together in the spirit of volunteerism to beautify and improve our city in a short span of time by working together.

We appreciate those of you who have already signed up and will be joining with us to help with this important endeavor. The value of community service and the impact that it has on all of our citizens cannot be stressed enough.

If you have made this important commitment to volunteer, we remind you of the value this will be to our entire community. For those who have registered, you should have received an email with your assignment. Everyone will meet at Frontier Middle School at 8:30 AM to check-in before going to the location of their assignment. If you did not receive the email or have questions, please contact Angela at avalenzuela@emcity.org or 801-789-6603.

If you have not yet volunteered to join this community effort, we hope you will seriously consider doing so. Registration is still open at the following link: Register Here. Come join the fun and keep the spirit of volunteerism alive! The free lunch, T-shirts and other giveaways are a small token of our thanks and appreciation to each individual and group that volunteers.

Thoughts About A Recreation Center

Recently, at my neighborhood caucus, I had the opportunity to answer questions from residents while we waited for the votes to be tallied. I wasn’t surprised when someone asked, “When are we going to get a rec center?” because I get this question frequently.

Cities can certainly offer recreation opportunities in various capacities, though I do have some concern with building a facility that would be in direct competition to private enterprise in some ways. Private enterprise creates resources, jobs, and property taxes. Government consumes those resources. We may argue that a government-run rec center would create jobs too, but the government can only get the money to continue running such a facility by taxing residents or charging usage fees. I have yet to find a rec center that is fully funded and self-sustaining through usage fees alone, though gyms and water parks are able to do so regularly. If anyone knows of a recreation center that fully funds its annual operational expense through usage fees and not taxes, please let me know because I would like to explore the subject more.

In spite of paying no property tax, and thus having a considerable advantage over private enterprise when setting pricing, they still operate at a net expense, where ideally they should be revenue neutral. I make this statement after direct observation and meeting with multiple entities that run recreation centers. Recreation centers almost always operate as “cost centers,” (meaning they don’t break even and they cost money to operate).  Where a political body such as a city council is responsible for setting the fees charged for facility use, there is a built-in incentive for council to keep the fees low. While this will benefit those who use the facility regularly, it will impact the taxes of all residents, regardless of use.

Recreation centers and aquatic centers offer great activities and programs for residents to participate in. I believe that most communities with rec centers enjoy them and are glad they are there. For a moment I would like to look past the benefit and consider the associated expense. Many municipalities have built recreation and aquatic centers over the years with costs ranging from $11 million to $39 million. After that, the cost of running the center must be considered. One rec center in a neighboring community has $800,000 in net operating expenses, after usage fees.

Rec centers and aquatic centers are typically financed by issuing a General Obligation bond (GO bond). General Obligation bonds are backed by the taxing ability of the bond issuer (the City). This results in an increase to property taxes for all residents to pay for the construction of the building, regardless of whether or not they use the facility. All other costs of operating the facility such as employee wages, equipment, supplies, and utility costs are paid for with the money the facility charges patrons for its use. If the money collected from usage fees does not cover the full cost of operation, then money from other revenue sources must subsidize the operation. There are very few municipal recreation centers or aquatic centers that break even on their own. In these cases, the government must use cash from its general fund to make up the difference. In essence, property tax and sales taxes are used to satisfy the unmet burden.

I understand that many residents would like to see Eagle Mountain get its own rec center or even aquatic center. I have my own guiding principles and values which make the traditional model of borrow, build, and bill for use a non-starter. Those same principles prevent me from sticking taxpayers with the financial burden of indefinite ongoing operations expense. Lastly, where other entities such as gyms, water parks and other similar private enterprise options are theoretically possible, I am not in favor of introducing market competition when operating expense is subsidized by taxes.

The City has been looking for ways to satisfy our residents’ desire to have a rec center, without using tax dollars to pay for the ongoing expense of running it. We have been looking for such an opportunity over the last two years. If we are to be successful, it will occur through partnerships where needs and benefits are aligned between different stakeholders. Speaking for myself only, I am not opposed to participating in the cost of building a facility with one-time cash funds (not borrowed money) to build a facility which would then be run by a private entity. We have spoken to private recreation businesses, other public entities with specific facility needs, and developers. Through some of those conversations, a deal looked promising but didn’t pan out. While we haven’t yet been successful in finding the right mix of stakeholders and needs, we continue to have those conversations to find a satisfactory solution if one exists.

State of The City

Residents of Eagle Mountain City, it is my great pleasure to share with you once again the State of our City.  I want to begin by acknowledging an important milestone.  Eagle Mountain will celebrate our twentieth birthday this year.  As we look forward to 2016 and the blessings that await us, let us also remember the public servants who have gone before us.  In 2015, former Eagle Mountain City Council Member and Mayor, Robert Bateman passed away.  Robert served as mayor from 1998 to 2000, and served a crucial role in forming the backbone of our city government.  We thank him for his service and offer our condolences to his wife Candy, and to his children.

2015 was a transformative year for our city in many ways.  Utah’s economy had another pace-setting year, which translated into northern Utah County’s continued growth. Within north Utah County, Eagle Mountain continues to offer exceptional value for homebuyers interested in buying a little slice of heaven.  Developers remain just as eager as ever to invest their capital in Eagle Mountain.  Developers recorded twenty-three plats in 2015, the majority of those being dedicated to building residential units. This continued investment has resulted in considerable new housing inventory in 2015, as reflected in the 490 new residential building permits that were issued.  We are now also seeing an emerging commercial market in Eagle Mountain.  Precious People Day Care Center, Domino’s Pizza, Sunset Storage & RV, Central Utah Clinic, Ace Rents, and the Questar Western Regional Offices Building were all granted building permits this year.  It is truly an exciting time to watch our economic development successes unfold in front of our eyes.

Eagle Mountain is in fact in the best financial position of our twenty-year history.  There is a universal rule in financial management:  cash is king.  A strong cash balance enables us to operate from a position of financial strength.  We should strive to manage our cash position carefully and to keep our reserves strong.  Currently, Eagle Mountain City has the maximum “rainy day fund” allowed under state law (25% of budgeted revenues).  This money coupled with the proceeds from the sale of our gas and electric utilities places us in an enviable position.  Our strong financial position has allowed us to make many meaningful investments, which will continue into our next budget cycle.  We were able to complete significant road projects such as Mt. Airey, Half Mile Road, Sunset Drive, Pony Express Parkway from Sandpiper Drive to Ranches Parkway, and others.  We were also able to make significant park improvements.  Our parks department completed two remaining acres of Pioneer Park, completed landscaping at SilverLake Amphitheater, repaired and improved the skate park, and built a new fitness park in City Center.

There are three ways which we can use our financial strength to directly benefit our residents.  First and foremost, we can focus our spending on completing long-needed projects, many of which are remnants from years when our City did not have the luxury of significant cash balances.  These projects span many categories such as completing the unfinished portion of Bobby Wren Blvd, completing various sections of missing trail to bring connectivity, and completing street side landscaping throughout City Center.

Secondly, we can invest in new amenities and make improvements to existing amenities.  Projects such as building restrooms at City parks, building unique and functional features at Cory Wride Memorial Park, and upgrading medians along Pony Express and Ranches parkway to water-wise landscapes are all worthy investments which will improve the brand equity of Eagle Mountain.

As we make these investments, we will do so with prudence, ensuring that the expense of caring for these amenities fits well within our existing budget, and without depleting our cash balance.

Lastly, we can use our financial strength to insulate and protect us from any economic downturns.  Managing and maintaining our cash balance at or near the State-allowed 25% of budgeted revenues will ensure that any economic downturn will not result in immediate cuts to services.  In the event of economic downturn, this strategy will allow Eagle Mountain the time it needs to make sound strategic decisions after careful deliberation.  The best time to make important decisions, after all, is when you don’t have to.

With the support of City Council, we will remain on this path of sound financial stewardship and fiscal restraint.  To our residents, I wish to communicate clearly that the investments we are making now and will continue to make in our parks, roads, trails and other amenities, are a product of fiscal restraint and sound financial stewardship.

Eagle Mountain is a special place.  The natural beauty of this high desert is unique and breathtaking.  From the jackrabbits, to the night skies, the raptors, and the painted sunsets, we have something special that cannot be purchased or created.  It is our responsibility to protect and preserve these natural treasures.  The natural habitat around us is what makes us who we are, and is far too valuable to take for granted.  This year, much was done to protect these resources, which are part of our identity.  Two accomplishments stand out.  First, in partnership with concerned citizens, members of City staff worked to create a historic preservation code.  This code establishes guidelines for cataloging historical artifacts and creates a system to incentivize private property owners to protect and preserve our history.  Some of Eagle Mountain’s treasured petroglyphs have already been preserved under this code.

Preserving our natural beauty extends to our birds of prey, too.  This year a resident by the name of Shon Reed worked with Austin Robinson, an Eagle Scout, to build nest boxes for American Kestrels.  Shon also worked with Brian Smith from Rocky Mountain Power to get utility poles in the ground for mounting the nest boxes to.  He also organized volunteers to place these boxes throughout the City.  The next step is to get those boxes on a map so residents can observe the birds as they use the poles and boxes.  This work is a testament to the selflessness of the people who live here.

Just like the stewardship of our financial resources, we will be taking intentional steps to take care of our water resources, too.  While we do have enough water to grow well into the future, the right thing to do is to be mindful of our environment and to manage our water as efficiently as possible.  We are now working with Utah State University to implement new software to help manage our landscape irrigation better.  The days of accepting water on the roads are over and this will begin with better management tools, and with investment in the landscape medians.  It will take time to solve all of the problems, but we will start with the work this year.

Whether investing in water-wise landscaping, placing American Kestrel nest boxes, or building unique new park amenities, our efforts are all aimed to build value into our community and into our brand.  Eagle Mountain is a special place with a lot of appeal.  The fact that we aren’t like other cities is an asset if we allow it to be, and hopefully you agree that we want to keep everything special about Eagle Mountain just as it has been for the last twenty years.

There are so many wonderful things ahead for Eagle Mountain this year.  So many in fact, that I have hardly scratched the surface in this address.  The fact is that we are in times of abundance such that we have never before encountered.  Our future is bright and it is an honor to have the opportunity to shepherd this great City into 2016 and beyond.  We truly live in the greatest City in the State.  God bless America, God bless Utah, and God bless every resident of Eagle Mountain City.

For a list of some of our accomplishments click here. Thanks to all of our employees for another wonderful year. Without them, Eagle Mountain wouldn’t be the success story that it is today.

Snow Plowing by the Numbers

With the snow storms that we received in December, we have seen an increase in calls related to snow removal. Some of the specific concerns residents have had are on street parking, plowing in cul-de-sacs, when and how much salt we use, and packed down snow turning to ice on neighborhood streets. I hope that this blog post will help to illuminate some of the behind the scene details of our snow removal operations.

First, here are some of the numbers for those who are interested. In the month of December, our plow drivers spent 306.72 hours removing snow. Our drivers put 5,254 miles on the trucks, and spread 822.25 tons of salt. We replaced blades on three trucks.

The day before Christmas Eve, we took 58 hours clearing the streets and spreading over 150 tons of salt. On Christmas Day our drivers worked over 100 hours, drove over 1000 miles and put down just shy of 200 tons of salt. By my calculations, our plow drivers likely listened to approximately 1,731 Christmas songs on the radio.

If your street is like mine, you may be wondering why there is still snow on the street if our plow drivers worked so many hours and put down so much salt. I hope further details of how our efforts are organized and managed will answer those questions for you. We have three crews of up to five plow drivers, though we tailor the number of crews and the size of the crews based on what the weather forecast calls for. If we know we will have a prolonged snow event, we may run all three crews on a rotation so that they don’t spend too many hours in the plows.

Before I go further with details of our operations, I’d like to put the task of clearing streets in context more understandable to the average homeowner. In many ways clearing streets is not much different from clearing your driveway. One inch of snow can be cleared easily with one pass of the shovel and a little salt. When it snows seven to nine inches however, it may take three passes or more to shovel. If it is snowing, freshly shoveled driveway may have a fresh blanket of snow on it by the time you get to the end. Sometimes salt can take care of that snow, but it isn’t always enough. Have you ever had a spouse, child or roommate drive in and out of the driveway before the snow was removed? As you know the compressed snow is much more difficult to remove because it bonds to the surface of the driveway. Often times, compacted snow can take a week or more of salting and shoveling to remove if the temperatures are cold. If the temperatures are warmer and the sun comes out after the storm, removing the snow/ice comes up easier, especially when salt is put down and given time to work.

Of course City Streets aren’t exactly the same as a driveway. We can’t ask people to not use the streets until we get a chance to plow and salt. We certainly can’t ask people to refrain from driving on the streets until the sun comes out and the blacktop is visible. There are 138 linear miles of road in Eagle Mountain, 119 of which are paved. This number is deceptively low. There are far more miles of road if we count each lane of road heading in each direction. Trails, City owned sidewalks, and alleyways all increase the ground the City must cover.

With those concepts in mind, you may be interested in some of the internal details of our operations. We have three pick-up plow trucks which haul about 1.5 tons of salt. We have three six wheel dump/plow trucks with spreaders that haul about 9 tons of salt, and one ten wheel dump/plow truck that hauls about 14 and 16 tons. The fully loaded gross vehicle weight of these trucks is 56,800 lbs. to 60,800 lbs. Needless to say, operating these plows, especially the larger plows, is a task which takes concentration and care. They are capable of doing much damage if not operated in a safe and controlled manner. Just imagine what it is like to operate these trucks around sharp curves and down steep hills when obstacles such as mailboxes, landscaping, and vehicles may exist.

Each plow truck has a log book which includes amongst other things, a log sheet for the driver to fill out, a list of the drivers and their contact information for communication during the shift, and sheets which identify each of the four zones the city is broken down into, the priorities of those zones, and maps to help our employees if they are new or if they are covering a new route and are unfamiliar with the area. We have four zones to cover. While I could go into details I don’t know how interesting that would be to you. I’m happy to address this in the comments if anyone has questions. Instead, I’ll tell you that we have organized the zones with many specific variables in mind. First is the proximity to the salt pile which is in the yard behind our wastewater treatment plant south of City Hall. Because our drivers must frequently reload salt for spreading, we tend to use the large trucks for the northern areas of the city and for arterial roads. This allows us to be more efficient with our time as the trucks can operate longer before making the long trip back to the salt pile. The further south we get, we tend to use our pickup trucks equipped with plows. They must reload their hoppers much more frequently so we try to keep them close to the salt piles. We often use the smaller trucks for spot cleanup and tight areas within residential streets where our larger trucks can’t go.

Some zones have multiple drivers and other zones have one driver. The zones with larger lots like Cedar Pass Ranch, North Ranch, etc. can generally be plowed quickly by a single large truck, where narrower residential streets take more time, caution, and often requires a smaller plow. As you are aware, we focus on our arterial roads such as Pony Express, Ranches Parkway, and Eagle Mountain Boulevard. We then move to our collector roads and streets with steep inclines/sharp curves. These priorities are all determined by the safety risk they present to the public. After arterials and collectors we work our way out from the center into the residential areas. If snow is accumulating quickly while we are plowing, we sometimes can’t move on to the residential streets before needing to re-plow the arterials, collectors, and steep streets and curves. Luckily, it isn’t often that Eagle Mountain experiences a large snow event. We tend to see storms with only an inch or so, and with larger events maybe three to four inches. With these types of snow events, our plowing efforts usually result in relatively clear streets, and a little sun after the storm typically takes care of the rest. While every street may not be perfectly cleared, and some residents may be inconvenienced by snow on the roads, there isn’t often significant areas where people can’t travel due to the snow. I do realize that there is greater impact with larger snow events.

Now that you know a little about our plowing operations, I’ll ask and answer the question directly. What should our standard of service be, and how much money should we allocate to achieve that standard?

In asking myself that question, my answer is that we should do two things. First, our standard should reasonably satisfy public safety concerns. As a secondary priority, we should provide travel convenience as we are able and these efforts should be determined by the associated cost of providing them.

In checking how effective we have been in addressing the safety concerns, I asked for the incident reports from our Sheriff’s office and found that the entire month of December generated only three weather related incidents. None of those incidents resulted in injury, only one of those incidents involved two vehicles. None of the incidents occurred on December 25th.  With each of the incidents, I can’t conclude that greater investment in plowing operations would have reduced or eliminated those accidents.

Concerning the matter of convenience and cost, there are steps we can take to become even more effective and I will share those momentarily. First, I want to address street parking and the question of why we don’t plow curb-to-curb.

I acknowledge that there are areas where street parking appears to have gotten out of hand, and we will be working on addressing this issue in the problem areas. However, I don’t want to set the expectation that every street will be plowed curb-to-curb. That is neither possible, nor prudent. There is a law of diminishing returns with most anything and if we were to plow from curb-to-curb, we would need to spend an absurd amount of money on additional staff, equipment, and salt. I would consider that to be a waste of taxpayer funds, especially when considering our historically light snowfall in Eagle Mountain.

We can make improvements however, and those improvements will be realized by providing our plow drivers with the tools they need to do the job more efficiently. In short, we will be submitting requests this budget session to build covered salt storage, and covered parking for the plow trucks. The reason for this is that as snow falls on our salt piles and in the truck beds and salt hoppers, an ice crust forms which must be cleared away before loose salt can be loaded. In some instances, this takes a significant amount of time for our guys to do and results in less time plowing and more time preparing to plow. While that won’t solve all of our problems, it will increase the time we spend in the plow trucks with every shift. Additionally, our plow drivers will be reviewing their routes periodically, to make sure there aren’t any areas that are getting missed. Whether we clear the snow while it is snowing or if we make a pass after the snow event has ended, we do try to get to everything. Sometimes it just takes time.

Proposed Expansion of Cory Wride Highway

On November 18th, UDOT held a public meeting at Blackridge Elementary to solicit feedback on the future expansion of Cory Wride Highway (SR-73). If you weren’t able to make it to that meeting, I’ll share some info and some commentary to help you understand the what, why and when of the proposed concept.

Eagle Mountain is growing fast. This isn’t a surprise to anyone. Like those of us who have been here for many years, new residents see the same charm and value in our neighborhoods, beautiful scenery, and starry night skies. Add that to the wonderful people who live here and Eagle Mountain is very enticing to those looking to buy a home.

With that in mind, here are some interesting numbers to put our growth in perspective. Eagle Mountain’s current population is now over 29,000 residents. Our projected population by 2050 is 114,400 residents according to the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. A recent independent study suggests this projection may be significantly low.

Our growth has been fast and the trend has shown remarkable staying power. With new vehicles being added to our roads daily this proposed concept for expanding Cory Wride Highway is an effort of UDOT to be responsive and proactive to this valley’s future transportation needs. With the population of Utah estimated to double over the next thirty years (an additional 3,000,000 people), it is clear that Eagle Mountain and surrounding areas will be filling in.

The planning process for this freeway has been taking place for many years. The need has become clear enough now that efforts have moved from visioning to concept planning. Concept plans have recently been considered and their impact on future traffic flows have been modeled.  You can see a comparison of the “No Build Concept” modelling and the “Freeway With Frontage Roads Concept” here. You will notice that the “No Build Concept” (not a good option) leaves Cory Wride Highway with Heavy Congestion and 51,000 average daily vehicle trips between Ranches Parkway and Mountain View Corridor. It also results in between 43,000 and 46,000 trips on Pony Express, which also projects heavy congestion. For comparison, the same section of Cory Wride Highway currently has about 25,000 daily trips and Pony Express has between 15,000 and 16,000 trips. You can view the existing traffic data here.

With the expansion of Cory Wride Highway to a freeway with frontage roads, the traffic patterns change dramatically. More traffic flows to Cory Wride Highway because it will have the capacity to handle the traffic and this relieves the congestion on Pony Express (which by that time will be expanded also). Cory Wride Highway’s average daily traffic volumes increase to 76,000 with limited congestion, and Pony Express between Ranches Parkway and Mountain View Corridor (future connection) drops down to 27,0000 average daily traffic volumes with limited congestion.

The work up until this point has been focused on creating and refining concept plans, and modeling their impact at a high level. Now, the various models have shown that the concept of a freeway with frontage roads will flow the most traffic, and will do so most efficiently while meeting other needs such as cross traffic access, spacing of freeway access points, and more. With that in view, the next stage is to begin a NEPA Study. That is an environmental impact study which takes approximately one year to complete. The NEPA process is very regimented and it encourages communication and cooperation between all stakeholders. municipal government, agency (UDOT), businesses, and public are all able to participate in the process and give feedback.

NEPA stands for National Environmental Policy Act. Studies under this act use a number of tools to analyze  a proposed project. Without going too deep into the process, there is one noteworthy part that I want to share. In the analysis portion of a NEPA study, the social and economic impacts are considered and carefully documented. This section includes the impact to existing property owners along and within any proposed corridor of the project. Impacts to property values, aesthetics, and noise are all considered at this stage. The process is specifically designed to identify impacts, identify ways to avoid or mitigate the negative impacts and to arrive at the best possible solution to meet the transportation needs of a growing area.

The fact is that I can not accurately predict the conclusion of the NEPA study or the eventual design of the project, though I have reason to believe at this point that the project will be moving forward with the existing concept as presented. At the meeting on the 18th, a conceptual map offered three different alignments. You can view those proposed alignments here. Each of those alignments would affect some existing homes. To the homeowners in those areas, I realize this is an uncomfortable process. While I wish this project would not affect home owners, I do not yet know if it can be avoided. I do know that we can and will work closely with UDOT and with you to find the best possible path that has the least negative impact to homeowners and to the future transportation needs of this valley.

The timeline for this project is currently planned in two phases. The first phase is projected, though not funded for some time in the next ten years. This first phase would likely increase the capacity for Cory Wride Highway from Ranches Parkway to Mountain View Corridor. Additionally, the first phase of the Mountain View Corridor connection would likely need to take place on a similar or quicker time frame. This section is not expected to have direct impact on existing structures. Once aware of the needs of the facility, our staff worked closely with UDOT and Mountainland Association of Governments and developers to preserve right of way beyond what was already preserved. We will continue to take steps to prevent building on the potential corridor so that more people will not be affected.

While I don’t know the conclusions that will be reached through UDOT’s planning process, I can assure you that you will not be without a voice in the process. This is the start of a conversation that may be difficult for many of us, but it is necessary. The details will come as UDOT moves carefully and intentionally through the process to make certain the impacts are understood and steps are taken to prevent them wherever possible.

As always, I encourage your comments and questions. Additionally, you can call me on my cell phone at 801-564-9342, or email me at mayor@emcity.org. If you have a question which others may have, I prefer to answer it on this blog so that others may benefit from the answer as well.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Vote, and Thank You to the Candidates

Yes, it is that time again. Time for the residents of Eagle Mountain to get out to the polls and vote for the City Council candidates they feel represent their views the best. I just wanted to take a moment to encourage each resident to make it a point to get to the polls today. The polling locations will be open until 8:00 PM. You can find out what precinct you are in and where your polling location is by visiting the City website here.

I would also like to say thank you to each of the candidates for City Council. I feel confident in saying that Eagle Mountain has six great candidates to choose from today. I believe that this campaign season has been civil and respectful, which I am grateful for. It is a strong indication of the quality of the candidates we have. I look forward to working closely with the representatives Eagle Mountain residents choose, to continue the work of serving residents and making our City the best it can be.

Spending Utility Proceeds

For several public meetings now, the City Council and I have been discussing the topic of spending the utility sale proceeds. As you may imagine, there are many varying opinions as to how the proceeds should be spent. At this time I would like to do two things. First, I would like to give insight into what has been discussed thus far (in brief form) and what considerations are being made for the long term impact of the investments we make. Second, I want to solicit your feedback on what specifically you would like to see. And if you would like to participate in the discussion in person, you may attend tonight’s meeting and make public comment. We welcome your feedback.

In short form, City Council and I began our discussion by identifying every conceivable project that we saw a need for. We did this over a number of months. This list included a wide variety of projects. Building missing sections of trails, landscaping, upgrades to the irrigation system in The Ranches, paying off additional debt, and investment in Cory Wride Memorial Park are just a few of the projects. We have utilized feedback from the recent Citizens’ Survey and other sources to assemble this list.

At this time, we have done quite a bit of work to narrow down the field of potential projects, though we aren’t finished yet. There seems to be universal support for investing money in Cory Wride Memorial Park, though to what degree remains to be determined. Paying off debt, though an attractive concept, has proven to be a non-starter due to call periods on bonds, and timelines of repayment that would result in a reduced purchasing power of the money (a reduction of value to you). Landscaping improvements for City Center and correcting the water on the roads in The Ranches both seem to have support, along with some trail completion projects. We hope to get deeper into the details tonight and I expect good discussion to take place.

Overall, there is approximately fourteen to fifteen million dollars that will be spent in the coming years. The timeline for the investments and the priority of the projects is as of yet undetermined, but moving forward I feel safe in saying on behalf of the City Council, that we are all aware that these decisions will have a long term impact on not only the look and feel of our City, but also on the long term budget required to maintain whatever investments we decide to make. I also feel safe in saying that each of the City Council members are determined to appropriate the funds toward the projects that will have the greatest benefit to the community at large.

From my perspective, the investment of these funds is an opportunity that we cannot and will not squander. If we invest these funds appropriately, the value this community offers to residents will only increase. We are in a position to change our future, and I am excited at the prospect of what we can accomplish for your benefit. I do hope that you will feel free to comment, ask questions, and share your thoughts with me as we continue in this process.

What You Need to Know About Your Utility Bill

Eagle Mountain City’s Utility Billing staff is tasked with following the City’s policies and procedures to administer our residents’ utility accounts. In the past, Eagle Mountain City billed for all utility services including Electricity, Natural Gas, Water, Sewer, Storm Drain, Garbage and many years ago, telephone services. Currently, the City provides Water, Sewer, Storm Drain and Garbage services.

Water is a metered service and is read on a monthly basis by the Water Department. This is accomplished by an employee driving a city vehicle down every street in the city to receive the read that is transmitted by an Electronic Radio Transmitter (ERT) to a computer in the vehicle. Typically, water meters are read on or about the 20th day of each month (this varies slightly month to month due to weekends and holidays). The read period is about 30 days on average, meaning that the consumption measured will be from the 20th of the previous month to the 20th of the current month. After the measurement is recorded, it is sent over to the Utility Billing Department. Staff then goes through each account looking for anomalies that could indicate a leak in the customer’s yard or a non-operable radio transmitter. These problems are either corrected by Water Department personnel or noticed to the resident if there is a problem on the customer’s side of the meter. Once these issues are resolved, the Utility Billing Staff begins the process of producing the next month’s utility bills. Utility Bills are mailed just before the 10th of the month and usually arrive in resident’s mailboxes around the 10th or 11th of the month. These bills contain a due date for the last day of the month in which they were received. This typically allows the customer as much as three weeks to pay the bill (in 31 day months).

If a customer does not make a payment by the due date specified on the bill, they will receive a late notice by mail on yellow paper reminding them that there is an unpaid balance on their account and notifying them that a $15 late fee has been assessed. This notice also gives the date when water services will be disconnected from their home if payment is still not received. This disconnect date is around the middle of each month but varies due to how many days there are in the current month. Customers need to refer to this notice to know the exact date that month in which services could be disconnected for non-payment. In addition to the late notice, the bill that is received around the 10th or 11th of the month also contains a reminder of when disconnection of service for non-payment will occur that month. If a resident is registered with Xpress Bill Pay for online payments, they can receive email notifications when a new bill is generated and receive a receipt when their payment is accepted. They can also receive an email notice if an auto payment cannot be processed. Finally, the City sends a blanket courtesy reminder (not specific to individual accounts) to all subscribers to the City’s e-notifications the day before the disconnect date.

In order to try to help our residents avoid late fees and disconnection for non-payment, we offer both “Payment Plans” and “Promises to Pay.” Customers who find themselves in a situation in which they are not able to pay the amount owed by the due date are encouraged to call the Utility Billing staff prior to the bill due date to make arrangements for a Payment Plan or Promise to Pay to help them avoid this situation. The Utility Billing staff is ready to help customers get through difficult times by following these policies. Payment Plans require the resident to come into the Utility Billing office and sign the arrangement before the arrangement is considered in force. Payment Plans are multi-month plans that split up the delinquent amount owed amongst a specified period of time to be included with subsequent bill amounts due. Promises to Pay enable a customer to extend the due date of one bill to the third (3rd) Friday of the following month and can be utilized once every four (4) months.

In the event that a customer has not made arrangements such as a Payment Plan or Promise to Pay, and does not pay the balance owed on their account by 5:30 p.m. the night before the specified disconnection of service date in the late notice and on the utility bill, a $50 processing fee will be assessed and services disconnected. When this happens, customers’ services are restored according to chronological order in which payment was received. By ordinance on the City’s Consolidated Fee Schedule, the City is allowed up to 24 hours to restore services after payment is received. This policy is noted on the back of the utility bills along with rate schedules for each service the City provides. The City knows that going 24 hours without services is not convenient for any resident and therefore, we strive to restore services the same day in which payment is received. This requires personnel working late into the night on the date services are disconnected to limit the inconvenience for residents.

City personnel have found common issues that can lead to a resident being disconnected for non-payment. Some of these issues include the following:

  • Having an expired credit or debit card on file with Xpress Bill-Pay or the Auto-Payment System
  • Setting up Auto-Payment after the specified cut-off date for payment of the current month’s bill
  • Assuming the disconnect for non-payment date is the same each month
  • Extended vacations in which the customer did not see the bill and/or late notice and did not arrange prior payment
  • Transposing numbers on personal checks making it impossible for the utility billing office to deposit the check (residents are notified of the problem the day the payment is processed)
  • Not transferring services into their name when moving into a home
  • Miscommunication between account holders at the same address regarding making payments or receiving notices.

By the time the bill is actually due, it has been as much as 60 days since the start of the billing period that the customer is paying for. This is the main reason for customers who are moving from a home to expect at least one more utility bill to be sent after the one that is due at the time they vacate the home. A transfer or termination form must be filled out and submitted to the utility billing office when changing addresses so that the City has a forwarding address to send the final bill to, or if residents are moving within the city, the balance can be transferred to the account at the new address. Please do not notify the City of a change of address by phone or via email or a note in your bill. The termination or transfer form must be completed to ensure a smooth transition with your account. It is important to confirm your final bill has been paid in order to avoid an unpaid balance being sent to collections.

The staff of Eagle Mountain City’s Utility Billing Department seeks to help residents have a smooth experience in activating accounts, terminating accounts, paying bills and resolving questions about their services. Simultaneously, the staff is tasked with ensuring that payment is collected for the services rendered. While shutting off water service to any resident is not something the City enjoys doing, it is a task that must be done in order to manage the financial health of the City’s utilities. Disconnecting the Water utility is done only after the City has made multiple attempts to notify utility users of their past-due balance. If the City were to abandon its policy of consistent and timely management of utility billing, the result would be an increased cost to those who do pay their bills in a timely manner. I believe I was elected to guarantee effective management of City resources, and this means that our Water utility must be run as a business. It is my obligation to ensure that this is the approach we continue to take.

Were Horses and Trails This Complicated?

I don’t know what it was like to ride a horse along the Pony Express Trail, but I’m betting it wasn’t as complicated to maintain the trail as it is our city streets.

As a young and growing community, road improvements are high on the list of priorities for Eagle Mountain City. Road improvements have also been one of the most common requests from residents in citizen surveys, and for good reason. As a bedroom community, many residents are daily commuters and spend a great deal of time on the road, making the condition of our roads at home important.

Road maintenance comes at great expense when you have forty-eight square miles to cover, but ignoring road maintenance will cost even more. All roads will eventually fail. No matter how well built, roads have a lifespan. The lifespan of our roads can be greatly extended by small investments in preventative maintenance investments. It is estimated that $1.00 spent on preventative maintenance is equivalent to approximately $6.00 to $10.00 on reconstruction.  The value of spending maintenance dollars on our roads is quite clear, but the timeline on which those dollars are spent has a big impact. If roads are allowed to deteriorate and maintenance efforts are made late, the value and the benefit of maintenance investment is drastically reduced. For this reason, we have identified a five-year interval as the goal for every road surface to receive a preventative maintenance treatment.

Roads exist within an hierarchy. Without this hierarchy, we would have chaos! Can you imagine if your driveway connected to I-15? Arterial roads carry the most traffic and are generally fed by collector roads. Arterial roads have slightly higher speed limits and less connections and interruptions than collectors. Collector roads typically funnel traffic from residential roads onto arterial roads. For this reason, arterial road conditions are under the greatest pressure to deteriorate, and thus early investment of preventative maintenance dollars will typically have their greatest value when spent here over collector or residential roads.

In 2014, we made the decision that we would get our roads to the point where they were rehabilitated and could be placed on a five-year maintenance schedule. We then invested in a comprehensive assessment of the condition of every mile of arterial, collector, and residential road. With the information in hand, our streets department identified the roads in greatest need of repair and prioritized those projects by cost and value. It was clear that investments made to our highest use roads–our arterial roads–would yield the highest value. Some collector roads were also identified to provide high value by investment of maintenance dollars.

With great attention and effort, our streets department has successfully completed all but one of the projects on our five-year arterial road maintenance plan. They have also completed several collector road rehabilitation projects. Our streets department also installed brand new trails in a neighborhood that has waited patiently for them for sixteen years. Our streets department has done all of this in only two years.

Next year, we will be turning our attention to the remaining arterial road and our collector roads. Our inventory of roads has never been in as good condition as it is today. That is due only to the work our streets department has done not only in managing the projects and timelines, but in completing this very physical work to a high standard.

Many residents have contacted me about the condition of our roads. Many have acknowledged the work of our streets department and expressed gratitude for the beautiful new streets. Some have expressed their frustration with the condition of their streets. I understand and appreciate the feedback on both ends. For those who haven’t seen improvements to their roads yet, help is on the way. If the last two years are any indication of the progress, we will be repairing streets with significant damage quickly. I know the condition of our residential roads are important too.

The end result of nicely paved, smooth roads is something that everyone enjoys. However, we understand that the process of getting to that point has an impact on residents when these projects delay your commutes, make it more difficult to access your neighborhoods, stir up dust, and create noise. We truly appreciate everyone for enduring these inconveniences, especially over the past couple weeks when we have had several projects underway at once. We work with our contractors to try to minimize these impacts as much as possible, but some factors are beyond our control.

The most recent projects on Mt. Airey Road and our Half Mile Road/Willow Springs project have experienced delays and complications which I understand have impacted residents. Road projects such as these are completed in three parts. First, the road is milled by a contractor. Next, our streets department comes in with equipment to repair and patch bad spots in the road. And last, a contractor comes in and paves over the whole surface with a fresh, flat asphalt surface. We bid these projects together and realized substantial savings as a result. With these two projects, we believed that we would have them completed in just over a week, with the major disruptions being for about a week. Unfortunately, after the contractor milled the road, our crew encountered significant sections of failed road base. In order to avoid wasting your tax dollars, our crews have been working overtime to repair the trouble spots properly by excavating the failed road base and replacing it in layers with compaction. The time we spend today will prevent the need to do the job again in a year or two. In short, unexpected circumstances have pushed our timeline for completion back. In spite of this, we believe that doing the job right the first time is more important than slapping the road together to quell frustrations.

I know that the inconvenience of roadwork in your area can be a challenge, but we know you will be pleased with the results. We truly appreciate your patience as we push to complete these improvements and get the City on a sustainable long-term maintenance plan that will save millions of tax dollars.

There Are No Victors In War

In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers. – Neville Chamberlain

I believe this to be true in almost all circumstances. Certainly, that is the case with the fight against the prison relocation. While today there are three communities likely feeling a strange anxious relief, there is one community which was not “successful”. From outright fatigue of fighting this battle, my commentary will be brief.

First and by all means foremost,  I want to say that I could not possibly be any more proud than I am today of the residents of Saratoga Springs, Cedar Fort, Fairfield, and of course, Eagle Mountain. The community activism and mutual support our communities gave to one another throughout this protracted fight has been nothing short of inspiring. They say you find out who your friends are in your time of need. I’m glad to know that not only the residents of surrounding communities of Northwest Utah County care for one another’s needs, but the Mayors of each of our communities have been united as well. I’m glad to call each of you friends. I want to acknowledge and thank each of you for your contributions. Whether you participated by sending emails, keeping informed, attending rallies, making signs, informing neighbors, calling legislators, speaking to the press, or sharing your concerns with me, I am sincerely grateful. Your efforts absolutely made a difference. I assure you of that.

Today I am breathing a sigh of relief. Make no mistake about this; our arguments against hosting the new prison have never been focused on superficial factors commonly classified as NIMBY arguments. Mine and the City Council’s role as the stewards of the resources you taxpayers have entrusted us with, would have been in direct peril had we been chosen as the site. We work so hard to operate lean and efficient with your tax dollars. The additional requirements associated with the prison would have had a significant and detrimental impact on our ability to continue that trend. That is why I and City Council fought as hard as we did. It is our responsibility to do so and we would undoubtedly do it again if necessary.

I also want to state that I am still disappointed that the Draper site was not given the same “analysis” that the other sites received. I stand firmly in my position that this was a political decision and not a financial decision. Many legislators may disagree with that statement, though I welcome conversation with any of them. I have invested more time than I desired to fully analyze the facts and figures behind this prison move. I have done so solely in defense of Eagle Mountain’s future, though that process led me to the position that Draper was most likely the least long term expense for the prison. Had the consultants completed that analysis, we may have come to a more complete conclusion. In any case, there is little point crying over spilled milk, as they say.

Some time ago, it became glaringly obvious that the prison would be moving from the Draper site no matter what. In light of that reality, the conclusion was the best I could hope for. The House and the Senate both voted in a super majority to move the prison to the Salt Lake site. The Utah Constitution prevents a citizens referendum in the case of a 2/3 vote in both houses. This means that the resolution that was passed may not be challenged at the ballot. This provides some degree of protection for Eagle Mountain. Legal challenges and other political wrangling may, or likely will, ensue, though such methods of reversing this decision will be long shots. No matter what action Salt Lake City takes, we will watch the process closely and will not let down our guard. We will stand ready to pick up the sword again should things shift.

I encourage each of you to take a well deserved rest and I hope that you will continue to remain engaged with your government, be it Federal, State, or municipal. Your involvement keeps government accountable, and it makes us better. Thank you for all you have done. We couldn’t have done our part without you.