Friday, December 15, 2006

Preparations for 2007 Elections are Underway

With the passage and implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) the landscape of elections in the United States have changed significantly. Overwhelming acceptance and success with the electronic voting equipment during the 2006 Utah elections has allowed some election officials to breathe a sigh of relief, but the costs and procedural nuances of pulling-off a successful, fully electronic election for the 2007 municipal elections could prove problematic for many cities in Utah.

Significant cost increases, technical complexity, and statutory ambiguity are weighing heavily on many city recorders and election experts in Utah as the preparations begin for the 2007 election cycle. The Utah League of Cities and Towns and members of the Utah Municipal Clerks Associations have conducted a series of meetings with the Lieutenant Governor and several counties over the last few weeks to address many of these issues and will recommend a series of statutory changes to the Lieutenant Governor (Utah’s chief election officer) and the Municipal Policy Committee for the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

The ULCT and the Municipal Clerks have identified the following issues that will require legislative action during the 2007 legislative session in order for the cities and towns to adequately conduct a successful election.

Changes in the Municipal Election Primary Date: Due to recent statutory changes which require 14 days of early voting in both primary and general elections, we felt it necessary to extend the time period between the municipal primary and the municipal general election. Currently, there is approximately one month between the primary and general election, leaving little time to conduct early voting and address any election issues that may arise during a primary election. We will be suggesting a change in the municipal primary to allow approximately two months between the primary and general to ensure that any primary election challenges that may occur can be adequately addressed prior to the general election.

Greater Consolidation of Voting Precincts: Due to the cost associated with using the electronic equipment, we felt that greater consolidation of voting precincts would help manage the cost associated with the deployment of voting equipment. The current state statute only allows 1st and 2nd class cities to consolidate up to two precincts when conducting elections. The law does, however, allow smaller jurisdictions to consolidate as many precincts as practicable. We will be recommending that 1st and 2nd class cities be allowed to consolidate up to four precincts when conducting municipal elections as a cost management strategy.

Clarify that Electronic Voting Equipment is not required during municipal elections: There are several portions of the current statute which leave some ambiguity as to whether electronic voting equipment is required when conducting municipal elections. We will be making a suggestion that several technical “clean-up” changes be made to Title 20A of the Utah State Code to ensure that there is no requirement that cities use the electronic voting equipment. We would like to ensure that optical scan balloting and paper balloting are still viable options for those communities that wish to use them. We are assuming that many jurisdictions will use the electronic equipment, but want to maintain flexibility on this issue, again as a cost containment issue.

Changes to Early Voting: Finally, we will be recommending that changes be made to the interpretation of the statute governing early voting to ensure that our small jurisdictions are only required to make early voting available during the regular operating hours for there given city or town. Currently the statute says that early voting must be made available for at least 4 hours a day during “normal business hours” for the two weeks preceding the primary and general election. Since the business hours of cities and towns vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, we would like to clarify that early voting be made available for the two weeks preceding the election, but the time frame for the requirement can be determined by the municipality.

We will be meeting with Lieutenant Governor Herbert next week to go over these recommendations and have already acquired a bill sponsor to address these issues. We will be finalizing the recommendations with our Policy Committee in early January, and will be working with the bill sponsor, Representative Doug Aagard, on these issues during the legislative process.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Local Telecommunications Issues Highlighted at the FCC

The US Federal Communications Commission may vote on Dec. 20 to change some of the rules regarding cable franchising. FCC chairman Kevin Martin has circulated a proposal to the other four commissioners to require local authorities to decide within 90 days on some phone-company applications to offer TV in competition with cable providers. The plan would require local authorities to rule within 90 days on video-franchise applications from companies that already have a community's rights-of-way. Localities would have 180 days to rule on applications from companies that don't already have such access. Martin also called for limits on the types of fees local agencies can "reasonably require" new TV providers to pay in franchise deals. The FCC also may limit local regulators' ability to impose "build-out" rules, which typically require a company selling TV in a cable market to offer service to all households in that region.

Unrelated to the FCC Dec. 20 vote, on Nov. 13 and 14 Comcast filed effective competition petitions with the FCC for selected communities in seven states. Under federal law, if a cable provider can demonstrate that effective competition exists in a community, it can apply to the FCC for relief from regulation of basic cable rates and for associated equipment and installation. These filings affect 831,344 customers nationally. Already more than a million of all Comcast customers have been certified by the FCC as being subject to effective competition. These filings demonstrate the increasing and aggressive competition present in the multichannel video marketplace. Congress and the FCC set up a process allowing cable companies to petition for regulatory relief when effective competition is demonstrated. Federal law recognizes that where certain competitive conditions exist in a marketplace, regulation of basic cable programming and equipment and installation rates is no longer necessary. These filings are customary when effective competition can be demonstrated. Comcast has filed and previously been granted numerous applications for effective competition. When effective competition exists, consumer protection is ensured by market forces, rather than rate regulation. If approved by the FCC, Comcast would still be subject to other requirements of its local franchise agreements including the payment of franchise fees and carriage of public, educational and government access channels, strict customer and technical service standards, and requirements to serve every neighborhood.

While both issues deal with telecommunications, it is important to understand that they are in no way related. While the first issue may have significant ramifications on local franchising, the ladder issue will not impact a municipalities ability to govern the franchise arrangement with Comcast within their operating area. The first issue, which deals with the FCC rule change, is problematic, but there are several national groups working to preempt any action taken by the FCC, arguing that it will take congressional action to impose “build-out” and other franchising rules.

If you are interested in additional information here are some helpful links:

Friday, November 17, 2006

And They Say Utah Has a Part-Time Legislature

It certainly didn’t feel like a part-time legislature this week as the state legislature conducted it’s last round of interim meetings prior to the 2007 General Legislative Session. With a robust discussion on transit/road funding in Executive Appropriations on Tuesday, all-day interim meetings on Wednesday, and a Water Issues Taskforce meeting on Thursday, the ULCT stayed busy this week tracking issues of importance for local government. We will try to summarize the week’s events as concisely as possible.

Transportation Funding

An important lesson was learned on Tuesday when the Wasatch Front Regional Council presented, for the first time, information to the Executive Appropriations Committee on the transportation project prioritization process that the Salt Lake County Council of Governments had adopted for the new 0.25% sales tax authority. It is a lesson that should be learned early when dealing with the legislature, and that is:

Unfortunately little work was done with individual legislators to ensure an acceptable level of comfort with the recommended process, and it showed in the hearing. Members of Executive Appropriations bombarded spokespersons from WFRC with pointed questions on the prioritization process and ultimately moved on to other agenda items without taking action on the presented material. The practical effect of that action is minor, in that the item will likely be back on the agenda in December. Hopefully WFRC and the other interested parties will work closely with members of Executive Appropriations in the coming weeks to ensure that the legislature clearly understands and accepts the rationale behind the recommended process – Better Luck Next Time.

Also on transportation, Senator Howard Stephenson presented an idea to the Transportation Interim Committee regarding increased bonding for highway corridor preservation. While it may astonish some folks that Senator Stephenson is in favor of any program that is associated with government spending, he has actually been one of the leading advocates for increased bonding for such projects. His logic is that if we can buy anticipated highway corridors now, we will save money in the long-run by preventing future development in the corridor. The only touchy point of his proposal is that the state does in essence get into the land speculation business because any excess land that is purchased can then be sold by the state at a later date for market prices. Despite that issue, the idea was received warmly by the Transportation Committee, and received immense praise from the committee chairperson, Senator Sheldon Killpack, who has been the foremost legislative advocate on proactive corridor preservation measures. Hopefully that bodes well for the bills future.


Now on to tax matters. While the Revenue and Taxation interim agenda was quite busy, it was relatively quiet for local government. The committee only touched on one item of real interests for local government, and that was the issue of property tax deferments for elderly citizens.

The bill would allow anyone over the age of 65 to apply for a property tax deferment on any increase in property tax over a base amount that would be established when the deferral is requested. Those property taxes would still be owed on the property, but would act as a lien on the property, and would be paid in full upon sell. The bill would also create a revolving fund to ensure that taxing entities still receive the associated taxes by taking funds gained through liens that are paid and distributing those funds to taxing entities that are impacted by new deferrals. The bill was received with some mixed emotion. Even though the bill was not passed out with a committee note, it is likely to still be pursued during the 2007 general session.

General Government

During the Wednesday interim meeting of the Political Subdivisions Committee in issue dealing with the available forms of municipal government was discussed in great detail. The committee was presented information by Representative Dave Hogue regarding the City Manager by Ordinance form of government. Representative Hogue was asking the committee to consider legislation to remove the availability of the City Manager by Ordinance form. In essence, the City Manager by Ordinance form of government allows the city council to pass an ordinance which gives the executive powers of the mayor to a professional city manager that is appointed by the council. The option is available for third, fourth, and fifth class cities.

In light of recent municipal transitions to the city manager by ordinance form of government and heated municipal discussions on this issue, Rep. Hogue felt a change in law may be necessary. Several people spoke to the merits of the bill, and felt that the only way a change should be pursued is through a vote of the people. Others, including Mark Christensen of the Utah City Managers Association also spoke in opposition to the bill, stating that the option should be preserved to ensure that cities have an opportunity to quickly respond to the needs of their individual city. In the end, the committee took no action on the bill and will look for additional information in future meetings.


On Thursday the Water Issues Taskforce met for the final time and discussed several issues of importance to the water community – FYI: That means everyone who uses water. Of particular note to local government, a piece of legislation was discussed that would prohibit cities and towns from regulating certain aspects of landscaping to include xeriscaping. Since the bill was wrought with vagueness and contradiction for local government practitioners, the chairs of the taskforce encouraged proponents to work closely with the Utah League of Cities and Towns to ensure that there is broad buy-in to the concept by local governments who will be charged with enforcing local landscaping ordinances. ULCT staff and Stephanie Duer, Water Conservation Coordinator of Salt Lake City met with proponents of the legislation on Friday and encouraged a more proactive education campaign instead of statewide legislation. Hopefully we will be able to work together in a cooperative manner to achieve the desirable goal of water conservation in Utah.

As you can see things are starting to ramp up for the 2007 legislative session. Heck, we only have 58 days left until the fun begins. Until next time ----


Monday, November 06, 2006

Utahns Want Local Leaders Regulating Land Use

Utahns are looking to local planning commissions and other local elected officials to make land use decisions affecting their community. According to a recent Dan Jones & Associates survey, when asked who should have the input regarding new development 37 percent of the Utahns surveyed said local planning commissions should have the most input, while only 2 percent said the Legislature should have input. Twenty-five percent stated local city council and mayor should have the most input.

The challenge according to the Utah League of Cities and Towns however is training and educating voluntary planning commissions and city councils of constantly changing land use policy. Since 2000 the Utah State Legislature has introduced over 100 land-use related bills.

“It is difficult for our volunteer planning commissions to constantly be updated on changing land use legislations,” said Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini. “By the time we figure out the law, the Legislature is considering changing it.”

The Utah League of Cities and Towns is working with the Utah Realtors and other representatives of the development community in an attempt to remedy this concern.

The survey, commissioned by the Utah League of Cities and Towns, also showed that residents are becoming increasingly more concerned about overdevelopment in their community. Nine percent of respondents identified overdevelopment as one of top three issues of concern in their community. In 2001 when asked the same question no respondents mentioned overdevelopment as an issue of concern.

Other top issues of concern mentioned were education, transportation, crime, taxes and overall growth -- all issues closely related to Utah’s growth pressures.

Pollster Dan Jones indicated that concern for open space is one of the most interesting findings of the survey. "What it really shows is that people are much more concerned today than they were 10 to 15 years ago about how open space is parceled out to contractors, individual homeowners or businesses," Jones said. "People are much more knowledgeable about planning commissions and zoning regulations and how zoning comes about."

Dan Jones & Associates polled 605 residents during Aug. 7-15. The margin of error for the survey results was four percent.

---------- 2006 Land Use and Services Survey ----------


Conducted: August 7-15th 2006, by Dan Jones & Associates
Sample Size: 605 respondents, statewide
Error Rate: +/- 4.0%

I. Demographic highlights:

a. 88% - of respondents have lived in Utah longer than 10 years (40% lifelong)
b. 63% - have lived in their community for more than 10 years
c. 89% - own their home
d. 48% - identify themselves as Republican
e. 32% - college graduates
f. 56% - identify their community as rapidly growing
g. 40% - from Salt Lake County
i. (16% Utah, 11% Davis, 8%, Weber, 25% rest of state)

II. How would you rate the quality of life in your community?

44% - Excellent
49% - Good
6% - Fair
1% - Poor

III. What are the three most important issues facing your neighborhood today? (Top responses, unaided question)

Education - 27%
Transportation - 22%
Crime/Gangs - 18%
Growth - 15%
Taxes - 15%
Overdevelopment - 9%

IV. Which of the following should have the most input in determining the appropriate level of new development in your community?

37% - Local Planning Commission
25% - City Council/Mayor
9% - Land Developer
9% - County Gov't
8% - Don't Know
2% - State Legislature

V. From what you know or have heard, is your community actively engaged in a general (long range) planning process at this time?

57% - Yes
20% - No
23% - Don't Know

VI. Regarding undeveloped land in your community, should local leaders…?

Preserve open spaces to resist further development -- 32%
Allow density and uses consistent with the general plan -- 24%
Allow public use of the land -- 20%
Revise the general plan to allow other uses -- 7%
Other or don’t know -- 17%

VII. Which of the following should be local government’s first priority with respect to development of private property?

64% - Protecting existing residents private property rights and property values
16% - Preserving open space
10% - Don't Know
7% - Providing new affordable housing
2% - Protecting a developers property right to develop vacant land

VIII. Which of the following would best describe your local government’s planning and zoning efforts?

29% - Community bases
27% - Developer Friendly
14% - Don't Know
12% - Short Sighted
11% - Community Based
7% - Overly Restrictive

This is just a brief insight into a much more exhaustive survey. The survey, in total, is 125 questions spanning issues such as land-use planning, development and municipal service demands. For more information on the complete survey please contact the ULCT --

- Enjoy

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Utah's Cities and Towns Enter the Electronic Domain

We have entered the electronic Domain, not to be confused with the highly controversial eminent domain. The hope of the ULCT Legislative bLOG is to inform both the public and our members on issues of importance to local government. We will be making frequent posts throughout the year on this bLOG and will also be using it for the daily updates during the legislative session. If you are interested in local government issues in Utah, this will hopefully become a one stop shop for the most recent news, opinions and innuendos.

We at the Utah League of Cities and Towns hope you enjoy, and look forward to your comments. If you are interested in more information on the Utah League of Cities, you can also visit our newly designed website at