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 ----