Thursday, November 29, 2007

Justice Courts -- Cities Also Want Change but proceed with Caution


As many of you are aware, there has been some judicial and legislative scrutiny surrounding the independence, oversight and operational aspects of the municipal justice court system. After a recent Utah Supreme Court Case that took into account certain aspects of the justice court system, members of the Court convened a study group to determine if additional operational elements are needed in the justice court system to ensure appropriate levels of judicial independence at the local level. In addition to a widely held perception that the justice court system is merely in place to “raise revenue for cities and counties,” some specific examples have further exacerbated both the perception and real problem of at least localized judicial bias due to municipal financial scenarios.

In light of this issue, the Supreme Court study group has come up with some proposed changes to the justice court system. As those proposals were unveiled, they were immediately met with skepticism for most, if not all, cities as well as the practitioners at that justice court level. The proposal included a phase-out of all part-time justice court judges, establishing the State Administrative Office of the Courts as the body that will hire, fire and administer all justice court judges, institute retention elections for justice court judges, and have justice court judge’s salary set in statute.

After hearing of these findings and recommendations, the ULCT and Association of Counties commissioned a study group to evaluate both the perceived problem and potential solutions. In doing so, the ULCT/UAC committee came acknowledged many of the same problems that were highlighted by the Court Study committee, but our group came up with a different set of solutions to the problem. It is believed that the independence concerns that have been advanced by the Courts Study Committee can be accomplished without the fundamental shift that they have recommended.


Here is an outline of the proposal that is preferred by the cities and towns for addressing these concerns:


(1) Cities and towns continue to be allowed to select their own judge and the judge will remain a city employee. (This ensures that the duties and responsibilities of administering the local court are still realized at the local level)

(2) Potential municipal justice court judges will be reviewed by a local nominating committee; recommendations from the nominating committee will be submitted to the governing body of the municipality/county in which the judge will preside, and the governing body will grant final approval of the nominee. (This concept address the concern raised by the courts regarding judge selection, be creating a nominating committee. At the same time it provides for the local character of the area to be reflected in the selection of the judge)

(3) Justice court judges will continue to be part-time or full-time as the caseload dictates. (This also ensures that court needs are being met without requiring the hiring of full time court judges in areas where it is not necessary)

(4) After selection by the governing body, the judges would be subject to retention elections every four or six years within the jurisdiction where the judge presides; and retention elections will be held in conjunction with the election cycle for the jurisdiction in which the judge presides. (This addresses the concerns raised by the courts regarding continued judicial independence. The judge would no longer be subject to any real or perceived pressure from the city to arbitrarily prosecute all infractions)

(5) Justice court judge’s salary would be initially set by the municipality or county employing the judge to ensure that salary is commensurate with duties and responsibilities, but future raises would be based on an average of the annual pay increase for all city employees within the jurisdiction. The raise/pay increase concept would be dictated in statute to ensure “isolation” from “political pressure” regarding future pay increase. In addition, we would recommend that we maintain the current statutory pay limit of 85% of the salary of district court judges. (This concept would allow the salary to be commensurate with the duties of the judge in the local court, but would provide the necessary insulation from any undue pressure from the city administration that would be tied to future raises or merit based payments)

(6) Municipal justice court judges will be required to have at least a four-year college degree, and all currently sitting judges would be exempt from this provision. (This would address the court concerns with enhancing the “professionalism” by requiring some additional educational standards for justice court judges)

(7) Additional efforts will be made to harmonize the software and information sharing concerns that have been raised by the Supreme Court by pursuing a revenue tool and process by which all justice courts would be able to share information within a given period of time. (This address the concerns that have been raised by the courts relative to our ability to share information across all Utah Courts)


We believe that this approach addresses the judicial independence concerns of the AOC while still being cognizant of the needs of local justice courts relative to administration and judge selection. We hope to work closely with the Legislature, Courts and other interested parties to accomplish the collective goals that have been put forward.

Monday, November 26, 2007

UPDATE: The FCC’s Second Report and Order on Cable Franchising


On October 31, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Second Report and Order in MB Docket No. 05-311, FCC 07-190, released November 6, 2007, that addressed whether findings and relief for new entrants, promulgated in the Docket’s First Report and Order, also known as the Section 621 Report and Order, should be extended to current cable service providers (“incumbents”). The FCC found the following:

1. Application Time Limits. The provisions regarding time limits for franchise negotiations are only applicable to new entrants. The time limits cannot apply to incumbent renewals, which are governed by the renewal procedures set forth in Section 626 of the Communications Act (the “Act”), 47 U.S.C. § 546. The underlying rationale, to prevent unreasonable delays and to allow new entrants to provide service, is inapplicable to incumbents who are able to provide service during renewal negotiations.

2. Build-Out Requirements. The findings of the FCC regarding build-out requirements are only applicable to new entrants. Specifically, the finding that a local franchising authority (“LFA”) cannot refuse to award a competitive franchise because the applicant would not agree to unreasonable build-out requirements, is based on Section 621(a)(1) of the Act, 47 U.S.C. § 541(a)(1), a provision which does not apply to incumbents. The underlying rationale, that build-out requirements may act as a barrier to new entrants, is inapplicable to incumbents.

3. Franchise Fees. The FCC’s findings in the First Report and Order that certain costs, fees, and other compensation required by LFAs must be counted toward the statutory 5% cap on franchise fees, should be extended to incumbents. The findings interpreting Section 622 of the Act, 47 U.S.C. § 542, apply equally to incumbents and new entrants and include the following: (a) that an operator is not required to pay franchise fees on revenues from non-cable services; (b) that certain fees are not “incidental” and must therefore be counted toward the 5% cap; (c) that funds requested by LFAs for municipal projects unrelated to cable services are subject to the 5% cap; and (d) that payments to support the operation of public, educational, and governmental (“PEG”) facilities are subject to the 5% cap unless the payments are for capital costs.

4. Public, Educational, and Governmental Access and Institutional Networks. Many of the FCC’s findings relating to PEG access facilities and institutional networks (“I-Nets”) should be extended to incumbents. The findings relating to PEG access and I-Nets include the following: (a) all non-capital costs to support the operation of PEG facilities are subject to the 5% franchise fee cap; (b) the FCC’s refusal to adopt standard terms for PEG channels for new entrants applies to incumbents; and (c) the FCC’s refusal to hold that it is per se unreasonable for LFAs to require ongoing PEG support by new entrants (so long as the costs are subject to the 5% cap) applies to incumbents. The FCC held that other findings relating to PEG access and I-Nets should not apply to incumbents.

5. Authority Over Mixed-Use Networks. The findings of the FCC regarding mixed-use networks are based upon interpretations of Section 602 of the Act, 47 U.S.C. § 522, which does not distinguish between incumbents and new entrants, and as such, the findings should be applicable to incumbents as well. Since the jurisdiction of an LFA applies to cable services that are provided over cable systems, an LFA may not use its franchising authority to regulate an entire mixed-use network. It would be unreasonable for an LFA to impose its authority over non-cable services or facilities that do not qualify as a cable system.

Existing Franchise Agreements

The FCC recognized that since franchise agreements involve contractual obligations, the Second Report and Order does not give incumbents any right to breach their existing contractual obligations contained in franchise agreements. Instead, the FCC believes that each situation must be assessed on a case-by-case basis under the applicable law to determine whether the FCC’s statutory interpretation should modify the incumbent’s existing franchise agreement. The FCC encourages LFAs to work cooperatively with an incumbent who asserts that terms of its franchise should be amended as a result of the Second Report and Order. The FCC stated that some incumbents may seek modifications to franchise agreements pursuant to a most favored nation clause in the franchise agreement, pursuant to a compliance with law provision in the franchise agreement, or pursuant to the modification provision, Section 625 of the Act, 47 U.S.C. § 545. The FCC also recognized that if these efforts fail, some disputes may eventually find their way to court.

Customer Service Requirements

In the Second Report and Order, the FCC addressed the application of different state and local cable customer service requirements. Based upon the statutory language of Section 632 of the Act, 47 U.S.C. § 552, the FCC declined to preempt state or local cable customer service requirements that exceed FCC customer service standards, and stated that LFAs and cable operators may agree to more stringent customer service requirements.

Effective Date

The Second Report and Order will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Is the term "Mayor" really dead in Utah?


Many of you may have read or heard the recent news story regarding a minor legislative attempt to "eliminate" the Mayor position as we now know it -- at least in title, the story certainly down-played the overwhelming negative reaction that the proposal received as well as the 6-3 "NO" vote on the proposal.


While it cannot be denied that Sen. Howard Stephenson promoted an idea to do way with the title "mayor" for nearly 230 mayors in the State of Utah, it should also be mentioned that the vast majority of the committee supported the Utah League of Cities and Towns as they recommended to the committee that such a proposal would be ill-conceived and would likely be the "poison pill" to a more rational proposal that the committee may wish to contemplate regarding transitions between forms of government. In the end, the committee sided with the ULCT and decided to pursue more productive proposals.


Granted the sensational nature of a story to do away with Utah's mayors is tempting for many, but we would hope that the true story really gets out, and that is that this legislative taskforce on forms of government has done some really good work. After many months of meeting, the committee has decided to do the following:


  • Clean up the statute so that the confusion regarding the role of the mayor, the role of the council, and the role of administrative staff is clear in the various municipal forms of government.

  • Provide the citizenry an opportunity to vote on changes of form of government at the municipal level (Note: hiring a city manager that reports to either the mayor or council is not considered a "change in form of government")

  • Define the three forms of government that will exist in Utah state statute to include the (1) "Mayor-Council" form of government, which has a separate executive and legislative branch; (2) the 6-member council form of government, where the mayor and council sit as one governing body and the mayor is a non-voting chair of council meetings and has additional executive and administrative responsibilities; and (3) the 5-member council form of government, where the mayor is a voting member of the council in addition to having specific administrative and executive responsibilities. They will also grandfather those cities where the public has voted to have the "City Manager" form of government, otherwise known as the "City Manager by Statute" form.

  • In addition all of the cities and towns that currently operate under what is now the "City Manager by Ordinance" form of government will still be able to operate as they currently are and will just have to specify in ordinance that they are the 6-member council or 5-Member Council with a city manager that reports to either the mayor or council or combination thereof.

The proposal mentioned above was approved by the legislative committee with only one NO vote.


So as you can see that despite the impression that may have been left by the news reports of late, it appears that the vast majority of the Utah Legislature is still interested in having mayors and supporting our cities and towns as they try to govern. In short, the Legislative Committee and the ULCT have attempted to infuse considerable clarity into the statute surrounding this issue, but pragmatically the governance at the local level will be left unaltered except for the times in which there is a transition between the various forms of government.


There is one point Sen. Stephenson made that does resonate -- it is clear that there are many people that do not understand the governance structure at the local level. It appears evermore important to begin to reintroduce local civics to the public at-large so we can all begin to understand more clearly the government that is truly "closest to the people". Hopefully all of Utah's cities will pursue such endeavours.


May our mayors live on... Until next time enjoy.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

September ULCT Legislative Update


Campaign Finance Disclosure:


It looks like municipal campaign finance disclosure information may become a little bit more accessible if the legislative efforts of Rep. Brad Daw are successful. On Wednesday, Rep. Day presented proposed legislation that would require that the municipal campaign finance disclosures be submitted to the State Elections Website within seven days of their filing, so that the information could be made available electronically at a centralized database. The ULCT has been working with the sponsor and providing periodic updates to the Policy Committee regarding this issue. Due to our efforts to shape this legislation, it looks like the bill will have very little impact on the city administration, and will simply require that the information be transmitted to the state in a timely manner. The state will cover the cost of “warehousing” the information, and will provide several methods for submitting the information. We will continue to keep you posted as this issue progresses.

Electronic Notice Requirements:


The Political Subdivisions Committee heard an update on a law passed last year HB-222, which requires the posting of public meeting notices on a state sponsored website. The law does not take effect until April 2008, but much work has been done by the State Archives and State ITS to work with the cities, counties, school boards and special districts on the implementation aspects of the bill. The ULCT raised a couple of issues that they would like to see addressed prior to the law going into effect. Possible delays in the full implementation of the system, and a grace period for possible electronic notice posting mishaps were all mentioned as issues that need to be addressed. Because possible open and public meeting challenges may come up if the electronic noticing is not done properly, the ULCT would like to see some efforts made to ensure effective training and opportunity is given to the cities to be successful with the new requirement. While the cities supported the bill that passed last year, a few issues still need to be addressed. In addition to a “grace period” the ULCT requested that greater attention be paid to which notices we would like to have posted on the website. Currently the bill says all public bodies must post notice of meetings, but that definition is so ambiguous that greater detail may be necessary as well. We took the opportunity to talk with the bill sponsor and will be working through the issues in the next few months leading up to the 2008 session. Look for more updates on this issue as well.

Property Tax Hearing:


If you haven’t taken the opportunity to read the articles in today’s issue (Thursday September 20, 2007) of the Salt Lake Tribune (http://www.sltrib.com/) or Deseret News (http://www.desnews.com/), you should do so. Needless to say, the public came out in droves on Wednesday to discuss their concerns with recent increases in property tax reassessments. What was unfortunate is that most people are confusing property tax increases with increases in assessed value. The current Utah law provides no new money to the taxing entity due to reassessments, but an individual’s tax bill may change substantially if their reassessed value is much higher or lower that the average value change for the other properties within the taxing area. What is helpful to remember is that just because the value changed, does not mean the taxing entity is getting any more money. The only way the taxing entity gets more money is if they go through a truth-in-taxation hearing and affirmatively raise the tax rate to net additional revenue. While this nuance was lost on many, the passion regarding the issue of property tax generally was certainly felt. It appears that the State Legislature will be looking to make some modifications this year to how property tax is assessed and collected. Hopefully they will address the real issue which is reassessment methodology and not fundamentally change what has proven to be a very good property tax system. We will be watching this issue closely and are sure to post more in future updates.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cameron Bids the ULCT Farewell and Guest Blogs As Well


By Cameron Diehl, ULCT Policy Analyst and Soon to Be University of Colorado Buffalo (otherwise known as "the bearded guy")


As I have advocated on behalf of local government the past two years, I often explain that municipal issues are neighborhood issues. Be it the nearby subdivision or commercial development, local police patrols and fire protection or funding the sewer and sanitation facilities, what is debated within city council chambers and considered by city leaders directly affects the lives of city residents.

That is not to say that our cities are perfect in their decision-making nor does it preclude the constant criticism of government in general. For comparison purposes, I pulled up the Congressional minutes from last week. In a seventy minute span on Monday afternoon (7/23), Congress:

- Reauthorized the African Elephant Conservation Act and the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act of 1994;

- Reauthorized the Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997;

- Amended the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998;

- Expressed that the United States should address the ongoing problem of untouchability in India;

- Approved the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003;

- Congratulated the University of Wyoming Cowgirls for winning the Womens NIT (at least they are from the Mountain West Conference... even though I'm leaving for Colorado, GO UTES!!!)

(In Congress’ defense, they also distributed appropriations for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, money that will benefit infrastructure needs nationwide, including Utah.)

A popular political refrain is “get government out of our lives.” While life will probably continue smoothly with or without the reauthorizations of two different international elephant conservation acts, go ahead and “get government out of your life” on a local basis. We could stop collecting the garbage, plowing the streets, providing clean water or safe parks and eliminate local control over planning and zoning issues. All of a sudden, it doesn’t seem quite as cut and dried anymore as “get government out of our lives.”

A key component of our upcoming “Making Life Better” campaign is to increase awareness of what local government provides everyday for our communities. We agree that government, yes even local government, should be limited and within its means. However we also believe that when desired by the citizenry, there is a role for government to “make life better”.

Then again, maybe by just NOT convening everyday, local government is "making life better." You be the judge. As for me, I'm taking a hiatus from the real world to attain a law degree. I've appreciated the people I've met, the issues I've studied and the tremendous opportunities I've had at the League. As a lifetime political nerd, it has been a phenomenal ride. I intend to be involved in civics and policy for years to come and I hope to renew friendships in the future. To good friends who read Lincoln's blog--farewell and keep reading. I know sometimes he gets long-winded, but he is a policy wonk. Lets be honest-- if you're reading this, aren't you a policy wonk too?


Go Utes, Go Jazz and Go Buffaloes!

(31 days until Utah-Oregon St.)


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Forms of Government -- Are we any closer to a solution?

The Big Question: Are we any closer to a solution regarding municipal forms of government than we were 3 months ago?

While I think many of us hope the dialogue has progressed, the results of the Local Issues Taskforce regarding this issue are mixed. We have now reviewed two potential solutions to the issue of transitions between municipal forms of government, each of which has received mixed reviews from some members of the Legislative Taskforce.

The first attempt at a fix was a narrowly tailored resolution to the issue of transitions between forms of government. While this resolution still allowed for the city manager by ordinance form of government, it would have allowed for a citizen vote if the mayor contested the hiring of a city manager or if the citizens referred the issue using the currently authorized referendum process. This resolution worked for many members on the committee, but some felt that it did not add the necessary clarity to the statute so that people clearly understood the differences between the various forms of government.

In response, we tried a second attempt at a fix which was far more broad in scope and infused the desired clarity that was lacking in the first attempt. This also addressed the transitions between forms, requiring a vote of the people anytime there was a transition from one from of government to another. The proposed fix also clarified what constitutes a change in from to include three basic forms of government: the five member council form, six member council form, or the council-mayor form of government. The proposed fix then allowed for the hiring of a city manager that could either be answerable to the mayor or council all of which would be determined by the city in question. The hiring of a city manager to accomplish some administrative functions would not be considered a change in form, but rather a staffing decision for the city. While this resolution was also accepted by many on the committee, some members felt that the hiring of a city manager does still constitute a change in from unless the city manager is always directly accountable to the mayor and not the council. While we tried to explain that if a city is operating under a 5 or 6 member council, the mayor is essentially a part of the council, and not a separate executive branch, that rationale did not ease the concerns of some members of the committee who feel that regardless of form, the mayor should be in charge of the city manager.

So, now where are we? Great Question. We will be working with the two chairs of the taskforce and legislative research to see if there is some alternative solution, or if some minor tweaks to one or both of the previously offered solutions is adequate.

Towards the end of the last meeting there was some mention of having a spectrum of forms all of which would be voted on in the case of a transition from one form to another. The spectrum of forms would start with a commission form of government with no mayor and gradually progress to a mayor council-form of government with a distinct delineation of duties between the executive functions of the city and legislative functions of the city. The problem with this solution is trying to determine where each city currently fits. Since many cities have addressed many of the nuances of governance by ordinance, it is tough to force them into a category cleanly. For instance, if a mayor retains executive authority over certain divisions within the city, but operates under what is currently considered a 6 member council form where the duties are technically vested in the council AND mayor as a single governing body, Does that mean they resemble a mayor-council (split executive/legislative authority) since the mayor has some exclusive executive authority over some departments? Or does it mean we force the mayor to absolve himself of those executive roles because they actually operate under the traditional 6 member council and have only been given exclusive executive authorities by ordinance? In addition for those cities that truly operate as a unified body, but still have a mayor do we want to now get rid of the position of “mayor” and instead have city commissioners?

As you can see this is not as simple as we would have all hoped. There is still some optimism the second solution that was referenced earlier still has merit and can be tweaked to address any outstanding concerns regarding the reporting standards of a hired city manager. Our hope, as the League, is to maintain options for cities – a core tenant of the organization and our Legislative Policy Committee. While the mayor-council form works for some cities, so does the 6 member council where the hiring of a city manager, which is accountable to the governing body works well for other cities. Hopefully the Legislative Taskforce will also see the value in maintaining flexibility for the cities.

While everyone has agreed that a vote should be required under circumstances of conflict between transitions. We should not throw the baby out with the bath-water. Of the 243 cities in Utah, we have only witnessed “transitions gone-wrong” in three isolated circumstances all of which should not be viewed as the norm. In fact many cities are continuously morphing the governance model by ordinance to address new scenarios as they arise. Hopefully this is remembered by all as solutions are being considered.

Lastly a special thanks to the chairs and many members of the committee who have worked closely with the ULCT to ensure that municipal flexibility is maintained while trying to achieve greater clarity and voter accountability. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Deseret News Article Link: http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,695194765,00.html
SL Tribune Article Link: http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_6448737

Until next time … Enjoy

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Understanding the New FCC "621" Order on Cable Franchising

The following is a summary of the Federal Communications Commission’s Report and Order on cable franchising, released March 5, 2007, commonly referred to as the “Section 621 Report and Order.” This summary is a follow-up to the presentation at the Utah League of Cities and Towns Mid-Year Conference in St. George last April, and is provided for informational purposes and is not a legal analysis of the Section 621 Report and Order, and it is not intended to approve or disapprove of the actions by the FCC.

We have noticed that several Utah cities and towns have been looking for a more detailed analysis of the recent FCC order to ensure that local practices are in harmony with the new order.

The summary that we have linked to should provide a good overview of the new order.

We would also like to extend a special thanks to Jerry Oldroyd, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll LLP, for drafting this analysis for the ULCT membership.


Link to the Summary of the New FCC Section 621 Order: http://www.ulct.org/ULCTLeg.nsf/vML/289A49B32846EE5687257316004F00AA?OpenDocument


If you have any questions regarding the summary please contact the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

Until Next Time....Enjoy

Friday, June 29, 2007

Paris Hilton Plug with a Local Government Twist


Due to overwhelming public comment on one of my recent Blog Posts I have decided to give a quick Paris Hilton update. (Okay, so maybe it was only one recent anonymous comment, but hey, I take my readers input seriously.)


Anyway, due to this input I have decided that a Ms. Hilton update is not only timely, but relevant to local government. So, in order to stay true to this Blog's topic (Local Government), and because I am a municipal government "hack" I will try to draw the inextricable link between the recent escapades of Ms. Hilton and role local government has played in this public love affair with "America's Heiress"


A chronicle of Paris Hilton's Recent Events:


Sept. 7: Officers arrest Paris Hilton in Hollywood for investigation of driving under the influence after she was spotted "driving erratically." -- DUI Enforcement -- Local Government Making our Streets Safer -- Hooray!!


Sept. 26: Hilton is charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence. -- Book Her!!! -- Local Government Justice Court Hard at Work.


Jan. 15: Hilton is pulled over by California Highway Patrol and informed that her license is suspended. She signs a document acknowledging she is not to drive. -- Okay so CHIPS gets her this time, but usually it is a local government Peace Officer -- anyway again we are keeping our streets safe -- whew!!!


Jan. 22: Hilton pleads no contest to a reduced charge of alcohol-related reckless driving. She is placed on three years probation, ordered to enroll in alcohol education and pay $1,500 in fines. -- Back in Court, These justice courts sure are hard at work.


Feb. 27: Hilton is ticketed for misdemeanor driving with a suspended license. A copy of the document signed Jan. 15 is found in her glove compartment. -- Whoops --Probation violation, look at local law enforcement keeping their eye on these criminals.


March 29: The city attorney's office says it will ask a judge to revoke Hilton's probation. -- The long arm of the law belongs to local government again, boy are we getting our money's worth from our local government taxes -- keep it up guys!!


May 3: Prosecutors recommend Hilton serve 45 days in jail for a probation violation. -- The Justice Court AGAIN.


May 16: Sheriff's officials say Hilton will serve 23 days in a special unit away from the general population. -- So we went light on the sentencing, but hey the jails are just plumb-full with hardened criminals. Hey, did I mention the jails are also run by local government..


June 3: Hilton reports to the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood after attending the MTV Movie Awards and saying she's ready to serve her sentence. -- In the "Clinker" for Ms. Hilton. I guess local government will house, feed, and provide all the amenities a heiress needs for the next 23 days.


June 7: Hilton is released from jail because of an undisclosed medical problem and is ordered serve the rest of her sentence in home confinement. Judge Sauer later orders Hilton to appear in his courtroom to determine whether she should return to jail. -- Wouldn't you know it, local government now we have to pay for medical examinations too.


June 8: Hilton appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court, where she is sent back to jail. -- Looks like the double whammy for local government this time; both the local government justice court and jailhouse are reengaged.


June 26: Hilton is released from jail. -- Looks like this long "love affair" with local government services is over for Ms. Hilton, but hey we always have Lindsey Lohan to pick up where Paris left off.


Well, I think after this chronicle of events it is clear that the real star here is the local government with the outstanding services they provide. We often say that not a day goes by that you are not helped by your local government, and I think if one thing has come from Paris' recent drama is a greater appreciation for the role of local government. Thanks Paris -- The Utah League of Cities and Towns appreciates your attempts to help with our Local Government Public Awareness Campaign.


Enjoy,

Lincoln


Friday, June 22, 2007

June Utah Legislative Interim Update


It was another busy interim day for Utah’s 242 cities and towns, with several legislative concepts being discussed in the various committees. Let’s first begin with the Political Subdivisions committee.

While the original agenda for the Political Subdivisions committee appeared more daunting than it actually proved to be, the committee did still spend a good portion of their time discussing the difficult issue of eminent domain. The issue at hand was whether or not governing entities should have to pay above the appraised value of property to offset the potential emotional and non-pecuniary tie to a condemned parcel of property. As was pointed out by both the Utah DOT and representatives from the Utah League of Cities, the major issue is and will always be what constitutes “fair and just” compensation. In essence saying the “appraised” value that is assigned to a given parcel of property will always be in questions during condemnation proceedings, and by adding an additional amount above appraised value, we will do nothing to address disagreements that are inevitably associated with underlying appraisal. By the end of the long discussion, the committee appeared to understand the issue well and took no further action on the issue. Even though this concept may be well understood we still expect additional scrutiny of its use in the coming months because of the inherent emotion that surrounds the use of condemnation authority.

In addition to the eminent domain issue, the legislature also spent time discussing local government transportation funding. The Transportation Committee requested a review of the local government B&C road funding allocation, and invited the Utah League of Cities and Towns and Association of Counties to address any concerns that may exist with the current formula. There was general consensus that the current formula lacks any scientific basis, but both the Counties and Cities agreed that there is not much appetite to change the current formula because of the possibility of creating categories of “winners” and “losers” with any proposed modification.

Both groups agreed that additional funding will be an imperative component of any change and encourage the legislature to reexamine the state/local split of funds to ensure that we are not creating a separate and distinct state system apart from the local system.

The committee expressed interest in continuing the dialog and looking at both the state and local transportation funding paradigms.

Lastly, Lieutenant Governor Herbert and representatives from the ULCT and Counties visited the caucus lunches to explain the election procedures that have been discussed in previous BLOG posts. All of the legislative caucus felt comfortable with the election administration model, and encouraged the counties and cities to work closely together to ensure a successful November election. In addition, all caucuses expressed a willingness to cover a large portion of the election costs ($2.3 million), which was being requested by the Lt. Governor, ULCT and Association of Counties.

That about did it for this interim. As things continue to progress we will be sure to provide additional updates.

Until next time …. Enjoy

Thursday, June 07, 2007

2007 Election Administration Update


On Wednesday, June 6, 2007, the Utah League of Cities and Towns participated in an additional meeting with the counties and Lieutenant Governor regarding the upcoming municipal election and the addition of the school voucher referendum issue to the statewide ballot in November.
This meeting served as a follow-up to a similar meeting held two weeks ago, and while the last meeting was spent going over the issue of election finances, this meeting focused primarily on the administration of the upcoming elections.

So, here is the “scoop” on what Utah cities and towns can expect for the 2007 municipal primary (September 11, 2007) AND general election (November 6, 2007):

• It is anticipated that the total cost of administering the GENERAL election will be approximately $3.665 Million.

• Preliminary discussion intimate that the state will pick up approximately $2.3 Million and local government (cities, counties, SSD) will pick up the remaining $1.3 Million.

• It was again made clear that the cities and towns will ONLY be held responsible for the anticipated costs that had already been included in the municipal budgets to conduct MUNICIPAL elections. Based on a recent survey of municipal budget outlays for the upcoming election, it appears that cities and towns have more than adequately budgeted for the $1.3 Million in outstanding costs that must be picked up by local government. (We now have survey results in for 140 of the 242 cities and already have general election budget figures of $1.26 Million allocated that will be used toward the $1.3 Million requested of local government)

• An executive directive will be issued by the Lieutenant Governor that will direct that counties administer ALL November 6, 2007 elections to include the early voting requirements, absentee ballots, and Help America Vote Act requirements. In order to comply with Help America Vote Act, the counties are required to utilize the DRE electronic voting equipment.

• The Lieutenant Governor will contract with the counties to provide technical support from Diebold Election Systems Inc. to assist in elections administration, and will provide the state allocated funds to the counties to offset some of the election costs.

• Cities/Towns will only be solely responsible for the municipal PRIMARY elections. The cities/towns will also be responsible for declarations of candidacy, municipal election financial disclosures, Board of Canvassers (municipal races) and will contribute the municipal BUDGETED costs associated with the GENERAL election to the county/state to help underwrite the election costs. Any additional costs other than those which were budgeted will be picked up by the state appropriation that was discussed earlier.

IN SHORT: CITIES/TOWNS WILL NOT BE ASKED FOR MORE MONEY THAN YOU HAVE ALREADY BUDGETED FOR YOUR MUNICIPAL GENERAL ELECTION.

• Counties will be responsible for general election absentee ballots, early voting, Election Day ballot programming, and general election day “rovers”. The counties will serve as the Board of Canvassers for the statewide referendum and will pay any costs not covered by cities/towns, special districts, and state contributions.

• The State will be responsible for the voter information pamphlet, statewide technical support, voter rights posters/stickers and will put up state funds for the election.


It will be imperative that all cities and towns begin working closely with the counties to ensure that the elections run smoothly. We would certainly encourage such coordination to begin sooner than later. The details that are not covered in this synopsis are essentially left up to the counties and cities. Coordination on polling locations, possible contracting to run municipal primaries, precinct consolidation and other such details are sure to come up. Both the legislature and the Lt. Governor will likely defer on such issues and assume that the counties and respective cities will “work it out”.


Until Next Time...Enjoy

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Update on Issues Surrounding the Upcoming Municipal Election



Last week we conducted a meeting with the counties and Lieutenant Governor regarding the upcoming municipal election and the addition of the school voucher referendum issue to the statewide ballot. If there was still any question whether or not the voucher issues would be included as an issue to be addressed during the upcoming municipal election cycle, it is now firm that, in deed, we will be conduction both elections during the November general election.

Most of the time during last week’s meeting was spent going over the issue of election finances. It was again made clear that the cities and towns will ONLY be held responsible for the anticipated costs that had already been included in the municipal budgets to conduct MUNICIPAL elections. To help determine those budgeted figures the ULCT sent out a municipal survey on that issue and we are getting fairly good responses. To date, we have information from 100 of the 242 cities. After the municipal budgeted revenues are accounted for, it is then the expectation that the counties and the state will come up with necessary funds to offset additional costs that will be associated adding the referendum to the GENERAL election.



Secondly, the issue of election administration was also briefly discussed. While no final decisions were made, there was a clear recognition that several administrative issues need to be addressed. The following issues were identified as things to address:




  • Administration of Early Voting (Conflicts w. the statute governing municipal elections and statewide elections)


  • Lack of comprehensive election coverage if just cities conduct the election


  • Administrative issues if the city elections are not city-wide (just some council districts)


  • Coordination of this effort with Special Service District Elections


  • Consolidation of administration with the county recorders for the general election


  • Use of various equipment for the general election (Optical Scan, Paper, Electronic)


  • Municipal responsibility for the primary election and county responsibility during the general election


  • Use of a given vote machine during the primary and another during the general election


  • Treating the Primary Election differently than the General Election. (Early Voting, Precinct Consolidation, Equipment, Etc.)


While there were a lot of unanswered questions relating to the issues listed above, there seemed to be some initial consensus that the cities/towns should still be responsible for conducting the primary elections that may exist, and any efforts to consolidate efforts on the referendum/municipal election will be limited to the November general election. The does not mean, however, that the cities can't enter into separate contracts with the county to administer primary elections, but it is not the intent of anyone at this point to compel such coordination during the primary elections. There also seemed to be a strong sentiment that the counties may assume sole responsibility for the ADMINISTRATION of the general election to ensure universal coverage, but as mentioned earlier, there will be an expectation that any money that was budgeted by a city for the general election will need to be forwarded from the city to the county to help underwrite the costs associated with assuming administration responsibilities of that election.

Since last week’s meeting was predominately held to flush out the issues, we will be meeting again next week to delve deeper into the unanswered administration aspect of the election. As soon as more information is available we will provide additional updates.



Until next time...ENJOY

Friday, May 18, 2007

May Legislative Update -- Already Preparing for Next Session

Well it was a busy day on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, May 16th with several municipal related legislation/concepts up for discussion in multiple legislative interim committees. Lets first start with the infamous Political Subdivisions Committee. By its very nature, this committee spends most of its time discussing local government issues and this month was no different. With five items on the agenda, four had municipal implications.

First, the committee discussed the structure and mission of the Utah State Quality Growth Commission. After a quick review of the Commission’s mission, the discussion quickly turned to the role of the Commission in ensuring that local government land-use authorities receive appropriate training on critical concepts in land-use law prior to making decisions on specific land-use applications. John Bennett from the Quality Growth Commission did a great job of describing the need for training and plugged the efforts of the Utah League of Cities and Towns to come up with consistent training criteria and materials for local land-use authorities. Mr. Bennett also mentioned efforts that are being made to ensure that a myriad of training resources are made readily accessible through web-based training resources. While the interim committee didn’t hear directly from the ULCT on this issue, it is clear that the ULCT efforts to come up with training materials on land use matters is gaining significant momentum in several policy circles. Several members of the committee opined on the need for additional training and encouraged those involved to continue to pursue such objectives.

Moving to the next item – The same committee (Political Subdivisions) also heard comments regarding Local Referenda. Representative Scott Wyatt discussed the issue of referability of local land use decisions, and spent most of his time pointing out the inconsistency and ambiguity in state statute as it pertains to qualifying and processing local referenda. He brought up issues with different procedures for different forms of government, timeliness of applications, and broad questions regarding what is deemed referable under current state law.

While Rep. Wyatt did say he was not looking to “change the world” he is interested in getting together with interested parties on this technical land use matter. As many of you may know this has been a huge issue for local governments for some time. We have discussed several approached in years past, but legislative momentum has never been there on the issue. Well, it looks like this might be the year. We have already identified this as one of the topics to be discussed with the development community and other stakeholders during the interim period. Look for a lot more on this item. The Salt Lake Tribune also wrote on this issue, and that story can be found HERE.

A third item on the agenda deals with the appointment and removal of certain local government officials. Rep. Chris Herrod is interested in pursing legislation that would expand the advice and consent power of municipal legislative bodies to also include acts of personnel dismissal. While it has long been the law that the legislative body of a city or town has advice and consent on some hiring practices, this change would also expand that power to firing.

While his initial approach is broad sweeping, he is interested in sitting down with local government officials to see if it can be tailored to our liking. Some of the points of concern that we mentioned in committee included concerns regarding giving council advice on consent on the firing of department heads that report directly to the mayor in a “strong mayor” form of government. We also raised significant questions regarding the application of the law in the various forms of government, especially municipal forms of government where the Mayor sits as the chair of the council. At the end of the discussion Rep. Herrod committed to working with the ULCT and the Local Issues Taskforce of the legislature to come up with a solution everyone felt comfortable with. Some possibilities include limiting the advice and consent on firing to appointed voluntary boards and commissions that report to the council regularly and also limiting the provision to applicable forms of government – i.e. the council-mayor form and council-manager form of government.

Lastly, the committee heard from Rep. Neil Hansen regarding his desire to see municipal elections every time a city or town disposes of a piece of real property with a value greater than $1 Million dollars. The bill was opposed by the ULCT during the last legislative session for several reasons to include: limitation of municipal governance, costs of administering local elections for such nominal matters, and built in disincentives for local governments to dispose of excess real property, which in essence keeps that property off of the tax roles for all taxing entities. The bill died during the last session and the appetite for such legislation hasn’t changed much since that time. The committee was not too warm to the proposal, but we do expect Rep. Hansen to continue to pursue the issue.

Now quickly on to Revenue and Taxation items. This committee also spent some time on municipal issues during this month’s interim. The staff of the committee provided a great report on the financing of municipal government in Utah. They worked very closely with the Utah League of Cities and Towns when preparing the report and derived the data from the municipal finance database that is maintained by the ULCT for the US Census Bureau and the Utah State Auditor’s Office and ULCT use. The staff and committee also spent some time discussing the new ULCT project regarding municipal clustering and new approaches for analyzing municipal finance. It proved to be a nice opportunity to share some of our municipal government insights with the committee.

In addition, the committee also spent some time discussing the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, where Rep. Wayne Harper is attempting to get one (1) sales tax rate for the entire state of Utah. Rep. Harper has been working with the League of Cities for some time on the issue, but there are still many hurdles to cross before municipal governments will be comfortable with the project. Those hurdles include: figuring out a way to have a rate sufficient enough to include all local option taxes (Zoo Art and Parks, Transportation, Transit, Etc.). That would mean some large increases in the tax rate in many rural parts of the state that don’t have the same local option taxes as the more urbanized areas. In addition, the ULCT has still not endorsed the idea that a requisite reduction in the property tax must accompany any forced increase in the sales tax. Those items are still “out there” to be addressed, but we have committed to working with Rep. Harper to see if something can come of the idea. Many members of the committee expressed interest in the idea and encourage the stakeholders to work with Rep. Harper on solutions that would allow for a uniform statewide sales tax.

Well, that about covers it for interims for local government. As you can see, there is a lot going on already. If you have any questions or comments, we would love to hear from you.

Until next time … ENJOY.

Lincoln

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Update on Economic Development Tools

Recently I have been asked to speak regarding the available economic development tools that for local governments and state governments. Since the creation of the new Redevelopment Law, several members of the local government sector and development sector are scratching their heads when trying to figure out what can and can't be done with incentive based programs for economic development.

Fortunately, Utah Dialogue was able to record one of the sessions where I was speaking on this topic. The process of redevelopment, economic development and community based development was "broadly" explained. Below is a link to the audio recording of the panel workshop on this topic.

http://www.utahdialogue.com/edarda-and-the-industrial-assistance-fund/

I hope you find it useful. If you have questions please feel free to contact me. Contact information can be found at www.ulct.org.

Until next time....ENJOY

Monday, April 23, 2007

Comparing the Old and New Law for Transportation Funding

Well, it looks like the newly passed law, HB383 Amendments to Transportation Funding, will have some positive impacts for the cities and towns of Utah. We recently received estimates from the Utah Department of Transportation on what can be expected in the coming year for the Class B and Class C roads funds allocation. For those not familiar with this local government funding allocation, the B&C allocation allots a percentage of all gas tax and vehicle registration fee revenues (Transportation Funds) from the state of Utah to local government.

This ULCT initiated legislation (HB383) increased the local government share of the State Transportation Fund from 25% of all revenues received to 30% of all revenues received. In order to get the increased share of the fund we did have to give up a 1/16% state sales tax dedication to local road projects. The net result of the increased share of the transportation fund minus the 1/16% state sales tax dedication is revenue positive for local governments. Cities and Counties can anticipate a net increase of roughly $3 Million in new B&C road funds. In addition, since the transportation fund is growing, we will greater proportionate share of the associated growth.

For more information on the B&C road allocation you can click HERE.

Here is a link to a spreadsheet with specific information, by city and county, for you to review.



I hope this finds you well.

Until next time .... ENJOY!!!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Local Sales Tax Rate Comparisons

Since many Utah cities and towns are examining municipal finances during this time of year, we thought it would be appropriate to link to some pertinent information on the various sales taxes that are imposed by the state, cities, counties and towns of Utah. If for no other reason that comparison, this should provide some interesting information on the sales and uses taxes imposed in various location in Utah.

Here are links to two key charts on sales and use taxes:

General and Specialized Sales and Use Tax Rates

Other Taxes and Fees (Transient Room, Municipal Energy, Municipal Telecom)

Enjoy -- Lincoln

Friday, March 23, 2007

How to Handle Changes in Utah Tax Law -- Municipal Perspective

There have been a number of questions about the tax changes made during the 2007 Legislative session and how they will impact Utah cities and towns. In particular, there have been questions about what action cities may have to take in response to legislative actions.

It should be noted that virtually all of the tax changes were part of the comprehensive and voluminous tax bill which incorporate virtually every tax change made during the session. This bill was Second Substitute Senate Bill 223 sponsored by Sen. Niederhauser. The bill incorporated not only all of the sales tax related changes but also the income tax reform. It also included a number of special business tax changes. The principal exception was the municipal telecommunications tax change that was done through House Bill 238 by Rep. Wayne Harper.

The following information outlines the primary changes that affect our cities. Obviously all cities are not impacted by every tax change. However, there was enough of an overlap that we chose to outline all of the tax changes in this single letter.

The Removal of Food from the Specialty Taxes

Non-prepared food was exempted from the sales tax base for the specialty tax levies (previously referred to as the “boutique taxes”). In some instances there have been attempts at offsetting revenue increases. All sales tax changes take effect on January 1, 2008. Be aware that the actual impact of the food removal will vary from community to community and will depend entirely on what portion food sales represent of your community’s tax base.

Municipal Local Option Tax (1%)

This municipal local option tax was not affected by the partial removal of sales tax from unprepaired food items. There will be no revenue implications associated with this revenue source.

Municipal Transportation Tax Levies and Transit Levies

There are a number of specialized transportation levies that were impacted by the removal of food. To offset the impact of the food removal the tax rates were raised on the remaining tax base. The increase will take place automatically on January 1, 2008. No action is required by cities or towns.


Resort Community Tax

The legislation authorized an increase in the base resort community tax rate cap from 1% to 1.1% to minimize the impact of removing food. Since this action involves an increase in a rate cap, cities will have to pass a new ordinance to implement the new rate cap. Be aware that although the law change itself does not take effect until Jan. 2008, current law requires a 90 day notification to the tax commission prior to implementation. As such, impacted cities should not delay making decisions and necessary ordinance change. Lastly, there was no offsetting rate increase on the additional .5% resort tax dedicated for debt reduction.

ZAP/RAP

Generally this tax rate is imposed at the county level. However there are a few cities that impose the tax. The legislature did not authorize any offsets for the elimination of food. Therefore, impacted communities should anticipate a loss of revenue.

Generally speaking, the offsets that were provided in the legislation cover any anticipated losses that would be associated with a reduction in the tax base. While this is predicated on the composition of the tax base for each affected community, it is fair to say that most cities and towns will see little or no negative impact related to the removal of sales tax on food, and in many circumstances the net result will be revenue positive.

Municipal Telecommunications Tax

All of our cities and towns have been on notice for some time that eventually the rate cap of 4% for the Municipal Telecommunications Tax would be lowered. This is the year it happened. Beginning July 1, 2007 the new rate cap will be 3.5%. It is important to note that the legislation incorporated language authorizing the Utah State Tax Commission to automatically make the adjustment for cities imposing the tax at the 4% cap. As such, cities do not need to go through the process of changing the ordinance and notifying the tax commission. (Cities will probably want to adjust their ordinance anyway to reflect the actual rate cap. However, you are not under the tight time frames associated with meeting the July 1st deadline. Regardless of what you do – beginning July 1st you will only receive revenue associated with a 3.5% cap.)

This automatic process does not apply to a city that: (a) is currently at 4% and wants a rate other than 3.5%; (b) a city not currently at 4% that wishes to change its current rate; or (c) a city that currently does not impose the tax. These cities will need to enact the appropriate ordinance and notify the tax commission. Please note for these cities action will need to be taken very quickly in order to meet the appropriate deadlines.

These two bills, SB223 and HB238, generally capture all of the statutory tax changes made during the 2007 session. It is not, however, reflective of all legislation effecting municipal revenues. If you have questions regarding these two bills and their impacts or any other legislation please do not hesitate to call Lincoln Shurtz at the ULCT office - 801.328.1601. All in all it was a very good year for local government on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Please check your mailboxes soon for additional insights on the 2007 legislative session. In addition, please plan on attending the ULCT Midyear Conference in St. George on April 12-13 for a great post-legislative session recap.


Sincerely,

The Utah League of Cities and Towns Lobbying Team.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fiscal State of the Nation Is Questioned By All

As many cities and towns in Utah prepare for the onslaught of "Budget Season", I thought this video link to a recent 60 Minutes interview regarding the fiscal condition of the nation would provide some sense of ease-- at least for now. As you will see the dilemma that we face nationally makes our local issues pale by comparison -- Hey whats $23 Billion in transportation needs in Utah when David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, is talking about Trillions upon Trillions in entitlements with no way of sustaining the inevitable demand.

So why should cities and towns in Utah care? Well, as we continue to rely on partial federal and state funding for many of our local projects the pressure that many of these entitled federal programs will place on mandatory federal and state spending will have a ripple effect on much of the discretionary spending that we as cities and towns rely upon for matching funds. Matching funds for security, policing, transportation, water development, critical lands protection, social services, CDGB, etc. will all suffer from an unsustainable federal budget that is currently being consumed by current mandatory spending programs.

While many in the past have looked at similar analysis as a "Chicken Little" approach to the the economy and fiscal condition of the nation, it should be noted that the current assessment is almost universally accepted. The one thing that becomes clear is that simply "growing our way out" of this mess is not the answer. While it may be part of the solution, we will have to be far more creative and nuanced in our approach to federal, state and local tax policy in the years to come.

Hopefully the work of the Utah State Legislature, Governor and others is a sign that we are not the only ones who recognize the Tsunami that is ahead of us unless we get out in front of this problem now.

Take a look -- I would love to know your thoughts.

ENJOY -- Lincoln

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Entering the Home Stretch

Well, it looks like it is almost over for the 2007 Utah Legislative Session and despite a tough set of circumstances, local government has done pretty well this year. So lets quickly recap what has happened and what still needs to get done before we end at midnight tonight.
  • Removal of Food from the Sales Tax Base for the Boutique Taxes. While the original bill, HB282 is yet to pass, the necessary offsets to ensure that local governments are in large part compensated for the reduction in the size of the sales tax base is moving quickly. We were successfully negotiated a 0.1% increase for all resort communities and a 0.05% increase for the municipal transportation tax and mass transit taxes that are imposed by many of our communities. In addition, it looks like a bill to increase the B&C allocation for local road projects will also pass today. That bill is sitting on the 3rd reading calendar of the Senate and should be heard early this morning. That bill will generate an additional $2.5 million for local road projects to also help offset any losses associated with the removal of food from the boutique sales tax base
  • Omnibus Land-Use Bill. Our omnibus land-use bill, SB-215 also passed this year. This was bill was a consensus based bill that was being heavily pushed by local government and the development community. This bill clearly signifies that when stakeholders come to the table during the interim, good legislation moves quickly through the legislative process.
  • Environmentally Sensitive Zoning. Thankfully for all local governments, the legislature saw the wisdom, albeit imposed by local government pressure, to not pursue a bill to limit local governments ability to regulate development of sensitive lands to include watersheds, flood plains, steep grades, etc. This bill will not move forward this year and will stay circled on the House reading calendar.
  • Retirement. While the legislature did not fund an increased COLA adjustment for state and local public safety officers, they also didn't impose the increased COLA adjustment on local government without funding the benefit enhancement. In years past the legislature has attempted to award the benefit without the requisite funding, fortunately the bill was introduced this year with a complete funding package, but due to the fiscal impact, the bill was not funded and will therefore not pass. Also on retirement, a significant push to remove the defined benefit pension program from state and local government employees was also stripped of most of its language and now only provides an employee option between defined benefit or defined contribution plans and that option only exists for IT employees of the state -- in essence, the bill went from a full on assault of the current retirement program to a much more delicate and thoughtful approach, an nice outcome for local government.
  • Telecommunications. The much opposed statewide franchise bill for telecommunications service has also looks to have failed this year. This bill would have stripped local governments of the local franchising authority for cable services. As you can imagine, we feverishly opposed the measure. The bill will likely stay in the House Rules Committee and thus fail to be considered by the House of Representatives. We will, however, be seeing more of this idea during the interim. Also on telecommunications, it looks like the local gross receipts tax will be slightly lowered this year from a 4% max rate to a 3.5 % max rate. This bill was not opposed by local governments, as we realized that unanticipated gains in the tax were not the intent when the tax was initially implemented a few years ago. This bill should put the end to the debate on the rate for taxation of telecom services.
  • Elections. It looks like our elections bill HB-347 will easily pass this morning. We have been working hard to prepare for the upcoming municipal elections, and this bill should help significantly. This one should be done by noon today.
  • Eminent Domain. Some gains, but still some anxiousness. It looks like we will successfully regain limited eminent domain authority for our redevelopment agencies, but HB-334 which further restricts our ability to use eminent domain for recreational trails and emergency access is still out there. We have significantly delayed the debate, but there is still some potential for this bill to pass. We will be watching the senate closely to see if it gets considered.

Well, that about covers our laundry list of issues. If you have others to add please don't hesitate to leave a comment. Also, please be watching for our session "wrap" , where we cover, in detail, all legislation that had the potential to affect local government. This publication will be available in early April.

Until next time....ENJOY

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Telecom Stalemate and Eminent Domain Fight Loom

After a short meeting with many of the cable franchise stakeholders and the two powerful legislators (Senator Curt Bramble and Representative Steve Urquhart) who happen to be on opposite sides of the cable franchise debate, it appears that a stalemate on the issue will be unavoidable.

While Qwest, Broadweave and AT&T are attempting to impose some variation of a statewide franchise for cable service, the Utah League of Cities, Comcast and Orange Broadband have resisted the effort, largely siting local, municipal control as the main issue that must be protected in any franchise arrangement.

Senator Curt Bramble will likely run SB209 early Friday. This bill imposes a statewide franchise arrangement and removes many aspects of municipal control from franchise arrangements. The current draft of the bill would turn many of the traditional franchise functions over to the state public service commission. The bill will likely pass easily out of the Senate but will have a much tougher time in the House. With only 4 days left in the 2007 legislative session, it is likely that we will be talking about this issue for much of the summer. The obvious default position will be to not pass the legislation in the House and just study it during the interim period ....will see how prophetic this post proves to be.

On another note, it appears that an inevitable fight is on the horizon regarding HB334. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Tilton, would significantly modify provisions relating to municipal use of eminent domain for emergency access and trails. We have been working hard in the House to express our opposition to the bill, but the vote will be close. If the bill is going to be considered it must happen before tomorrow, so please stay tuned to see how the big debate turns out. If you are interested in the talking points please see them below.

Until next time ... ENJOY.

HB-334
Eminent Domain Amendments
Rep. Aaron Tilton
ULCT Position: OPPOSE
February 22, 2007


HB-334 redefines some “parks”, “trails” and “emergency access ways” to exclude any of these uses from the definition of a public purpose for which eminent domain may be used. The bill also includes intent language that intimates that trails and parks as defined in this bill have NEVER been a public purpose for which eminent domain may be exercised – which is categorically untrue.
ULCT Policy Concerns:

While a legitimate legislative discussion is warranted on the issue of condemnation for walking trails and parks, this bill is far over-reaching in an attempt to provide undue influence in pending litigation between ONE land-owner and ONE municipality. It would be an unhealthy precedent to use our legislative process to “trump” the due process procedures that are embodied in the judicial system. This bill is absolutely unnecessary.

The ULCT does not necessarily oppose clarifying the definition of a trail and park as outlined in this bill, there is deep concern with expanding the exclusion of eminent domain to retroactively apply to any case where such a use has been deemed appropriate by previous statute and our courts. We hare happy to clarify the definition to apply PROSPECTIVELY.

In addition, the ULCT opposes the exclusion of emergency access as a public purpose for which eminent domain by be used. One of the reasons we have the ability to condemn for public utility easements is so that we may access the utility IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY – We are very concerned with the unintended consequences of this legislation.

The bill falsely implies that the state statute has never allowed for condemnation for trails or parks as defined in this bill, which is just untrue. The sole purpose of this portion of the bill is to provide undue influence in pending litigation. It would be unhealthy to use statewide policy for single legal case that is born of spite. In addition, this section has the potential to reopen legal arguments in previous circumstance were eminent domain was used for trail and park systems. We would encourage the legislature to only clarify the definition in a prospective fashion.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sales Tax on Food Negotiations Prove Successful

First of all, thanks to all who communicated the League of Cities and Towns concerns to legislators with regard to HB 282, Sales and Use Taxation of Food and Food Ingredients. Needless to say, the debate over boutique taxes and uniform sales tax on food and its impact on local revenues and finances have been intense on Capitol Hill. Our grassroots efforts in opposition both last year and this session have made a significant impact with legislative leadership in their policy approach. As discussed at Monday’s LPC meeting, we have negotiated with House and Senate leadership to have revenue losses in affected cities offset by a 0.1% increase in the resort tax and a 0.05% increase in local option transportation taxes. While these numbers may look small on there own, in many circumstances they represent a 10%-30% increase in the sales tax rate that is being imposed to offset the 10%-30% in revenue losses associate with removing food from the sales tax base in places where such taxes exist. In addition, rural communities will receive an ongoing state appropriation to cover funds lost from the rural hospital tax. While such an arrangement will require some adjustments and doesn’t guarantee a 100% hold-harmless position, we appreciate that state policymakers were cognizant of municipal needs. Speaker of the House Greg Curtis and Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble presented the proposal to LPC on Monday and in turn LPC unanimously endorsed the plan.

Consequently, we ask you to join the ULCT in ceasing our opposition to HB 282 with your legislators. We have come to an agreeable arrangement with the legislature and we want to work together in good faith to see that it is implemented. Please continue to stay engaged as we approach the final calendar week of the session and continue to adamantly oppose the land-use bills HB 233 and HB 334. While we think a deal is being negotiated to ensure that these two bills are also resolved to our liking (i.e. not passed) we want to ensure that our opposition is still present until such a time that the “deal” is finalized. This should take place within the next day or so, and we will be sure to keep you apprised of the issue as things change.

We appreciate your involvement on these issue and look forward to many more joint efforts to successfully “tell local government’s story” on Utah’s Capitol Hill.

Until Next Time....Enjoy.

Monday, February 19, 2007

President's Day Celebrated

Hopefully you are reading this post from home, as you sit before a nice warm fire and enjoy this wintry President's Day in Utah. For those involved in Utah politics, we will be celebrating President's Day by conducting the public's business on Capitol Hill.

As we turn the final corner of the 57th Legislature, this week signifies the end to considering a bill from one's own chamber -- After Friday, no more House bills will be heard in the House and no more Senate bills will be heard in the Senate. This week also means the end to committee hearings. Wednesday will be the last day for committee hearings, so if you still have a bill that has not yet been heard by a committee it is certainly "crunch time". As you can see by the events that will unfold this week, the end is near -- This will actually be the last full week of the legislature and we will only spend three days of next week going through theses issues.

While the end is in sight, the fun is just beginning. Significant debates on Transportation Funding, Tax Cuts (Sales and Income Tax), Telecommunications, and Land Use regulation still need to be conducted. In fact, it is safe to say the most of the work will actually be done in the next 8 days. Late nights and early mornings are now the mantra as we all try to put the finishing touches on our 2007 lobbying adventure.

We have a few final bills in committee this week, so please stay tuned as the events unfold.

Enjoy.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hope you Enjoyed Valentine's Day

While many of us may consider this a day to simply celebrate the love of our significant others, it takes on a whole new meaning when the Utah State Senate President is Senator John Valentine. We hope you all took an opportunity to embrace the Day of Senator Valentine. Wednesday was filled with the spirit of love on capitol hill, and as such, local government had another good day.

First, the much opposed HB-166 Transportation Amendments Bill, which would place the Utah Transportation Authority (UTA) under the State Department of Transportation was sent to a favorable committee for local governments. While it was anticipated that the bill would go to Revenue and Taxation Committee, the bill was actually sent to Political Subdivisions. We will be working closely with that committee to ensure that they too understand the pitfalls of putting the local transportation district under the auspices of the state. It is likely that this bill will be heard early next week. Please stay tuned.

Also on Wednesday, SB-30 Creation of New School Districts passed the House and will be sent to the Senate for enrollment. The issue of creating new school districts still has several issues that need to be addressed, but the bill does establish an interim study item to ensure that those issues are resolved. This issue is quite contentious for several cities on the issue of who gets to vote when a district may be split into two smaller districts. As drafted and passed, the bill states that only the newly created school district gets to vote while the remainder of the existing district does not vote on the split. The issue of voting on the split will be the main topic in the months to come. Because of the split feelings among city leaders on the issue, the ULCT took a neutral position on the bill. We will, however, be watching the issue closely as it continues to be discussed.

That about does it for local governments on Capitol Hill for Valentine's Day. We will check back this afternoon with more information on Thursday committee meetings and schedules.

Here is the Schedule for Thursday, February 15, 2007:

House Revenue and Taxation--8:00 AM--Room W135

1. HB0383 Amendments to Transportation Funding Provisions (R. Lockhart)

2. HB0372 Local District Amendments (R. Lockhart)

3. HB0078 Property Tax Deferral - Senior Citizens (G. Froerer)

House Government Operations--8:15 AM--Room W010

1. HB0454 Voting Machines Used by Municipalities (N. Hansen)

Senate Business and Labor Standing Committee--8:15 AM--Room W015

1. HB0046S01 Disaster Recovery Funding (C. Oda)

2. HB0277S03 Construction Amendments (M. Morley)

House Political Subdivisions Standing Committee--8:30 AM--Room W125

1. HB0365 Eminent Domain Authority of Community Development and Renewal Agencies (S. Urquhart)

House Retirement and Independent Entities--5:30 PM--Room W025

1. HB0387 Post-retirement Benefits Restrictions (J. Dougall)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sifting Begins in House and Senate

You can tell that the end is near when the bill sifting process begins. In essence, this process takes the bills that have been approved by a standing committee but have not yet made it out of the "legislative body of origin" and sends them all back to the Rules Committee, where they are methodically released for consideration before the entire legislative body. This process usually signifies the end to many bills, but savvy bill sponsors can still work diligently to ensure that important bills are considered by the body. Those sponsors that may not understand this process fully may suffer the ignominious fate of "death by processing".

For cities and towns, the sifting process did catch plenty of legislation that was close to consideration. Now those bills, to include SB172, HB334 and HB233 have all been sent back to rules and will await their ultimate fate. While it is likely that all three bills will be sent to the floor for additional consideration at some point, that "point" is still yet to be determined. As you can imagine, this is where the real negotiations begin as people beg to get issues considered. Interesting "horse trading" takes place, and it becomes very important to understand which issues are being used as bartering chips. Since we have a lot of outstanding issues such as the three aforementioned bills plus others to include HB-282 Sales Tax on Food Modifications, we need to be especially attentive during this time of the session. We will keep you posted as the REAL poker begins and the legislative process operates in its fullest glory.

Just as a reminder, please still contact your legislators on the important issues of HB282, HB334 and HB 233. If you need talking points on those issues please either contact League Staff or visit our previous posts on these issues.

Until next time....ENJOY!

Fortnight To Go!!!!

Another Monday on the Hill and another successful Legislative Policy Committee meeting. We had a spirited discussion about the future of the small school districts legislation and confirmed which legislators had been contacted by our city officials regarding HB 233 (Morley’s Environmental Zoning bill) and HB 282 (removal of food from boutique tax base). With attendance of well over 100, we took positions on several bills, including support of SB 215, Senator Bell’s modifications to LUDMA negotiated over the past year with League staff and the development community.

Also on Monday, he Senate Judiciary and Law Enforcement Committee rejected HB 255, Representative Neil Hansen’s attempt to restrict the use of any ticket quotas for law enforcement officers. The Senate also unanimously advanced the second substitute to Senator Carlene Walker’s SB 41, Municipal Forms of Government, to the third reading calendar. ULCT is supporting the compromise bill as substituted, which calls for an interim period without any government changes and a task force made up of legislators and municipal officials to study and clarify municipal forms of government.

It is only going to get busier as February 28 is just a fortnight away!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Weekly Legislative Update (Week 4)

Taxes

Outside of the much publicized Soccer/TRT Tax Discussion there is not much to say in terms of a weekly tax update. Things are somewhat on hold as we await the framework of the battle between the Senate and House. The primary issue will center on the size of any proposed tax cut. The next issue will be the composition of that cut. - sales and/or income tax. As we stated last week - the primary sales tax vehicle is the elimination of food from the specialty taxes. The ULCT has taken a position to oppose this legislation - HB 282 and we have requested assistance in conveying that message to the Senate.

Telecommunications
Regarding telecommunications issues. This week the Telco rate cap legislation moved out of committee with a rate cap of 3.5% which is down from 4%. This issue continues to be part of ongoing discussions about regulatory/franchise issues between the cities and various cable providers.

Land-Use
In terms of ULCT issues, land-use has consumed much of the week. The debate on Morley's HB-233 and Tilton's HB-334 has changed venues and several local government leaders are contacting their representatives on this issue. The bills are still pretty far down the reading list for the House, and will likely be heard next week. If you have not had a chance to learn about these bills, please see some of the previous posts where we highlight the ills of both pieces of legislation.

On a more positive note, Senator Bell's consensus based SB-215 Land Use Amendments Bill has also started to move. This bill address several issues that were raised during the interim by the League and several members of the development community. The bill essentially expedites the land-use appeal process in some circumstances and also institutes the notion of "fundamental fairness" into the Utah land use process. This bill should move fairly quickly through Senate -- and we will keep you posted on the progress.

Transportation
It has also been a slow week for much of the transportation discussions. With most of the transportation funding debate tied into the tax issues and the relative size of the tax cut, this issue will likely take shape as soon as the budget/tax cut discussion get underway. It will be another week or so for this issue. There have, however, been a few anti-UTA bills introduces this week to include HB-166. This is the bill that would take UTA and put them under the control of the Department of Transportation. With it getting fairly late in the session this bill may have a tough time, it will just depend on the tenor of leadership toward the largest Transit District in Utah. We keep you posted as this one moves along.

As you can probably see, the "hurry up and wait" game is well underway. The session is certainly beginning to take shape, but there is still a lot to be done in every major policy area. Please check back often for a status of these and other important issues.

Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

TRT Tax is approved for Soccer Stadium

While many of us assumed that the Soccer Stadium was flat-lined last week with the announcement that the County had no intention of approving a funding mechanism to assist in the Sandy project, we saw the living-dead once again walk at Capitol Hill. Yesterday, the Senate approved a proposal to dedicate portions of Salt Lake County's Transient Room Tax to purchase the land and assist with the construction of a parking facility that will be used by the soccer stadium. The bill passed out of the Senate 20-8-1 and will go back to the House for concurrence. In all likelihood the House will concur and soccer, once again, will be among the living. Outside of that news, very little happened in committee or on the floor regarding municipal legislation. Wednesday, however, will be a very different day as several bills will be considered in committee and on the floor.

We will keep you posted as the events unfold.

Enjoy.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Half-Way Mark for the 2007 Legislature

That's right, today marked the half-way point for the 2007 legislature. While the legislature may be physically half over, most of our work is yet to be done. As typical of the legislative process, most of the large decisions are being left for the waining hours. So far, it has been a fairly successful session for Utah's cities and towns as most critical issues have been resolved prior to committee hearings and floor debates, but that scenario is not fool proof. As has been mentioned in the last few posts, two issues dealing with a land-use matter in Mapleton city have plagued local governments this year, and have broken the trend of resolution prior to committee hearings. Both Tilton's bill dealing with condemnation for trails, parks and emergency access and Morley's bill dealing with zoning of sensitive lands (geological hazards) have passed out of committee and are now before the House for further debate. We have unsuccessfully opposed both bills in committee and now wait for them to be considered by the larger body. As we have said before, the multiple steps of the legislative process is geared to "kill" bills, and we hope that is the fate of both of these bills. We will be updating you on as these two issues work there way up the list for consideration. It will likely be next week before anything else happens.

Today was also a critical day for appropriations prioritization. Many subcommittees worked late tonight to finalize the appropriations requests that will be forwarded to the executive appropriations committee. Now that that step is behind us, we will likely see the budget take shape as the executive appropriations committee begins to sift through the requests and set the "legislative priorities". This is where most pundits assume the "discussions" between house and senate leadership will also begin to take shape and larger negotiations on the size of the tax cut and the viability of removing the sales tax on food will also be weighed. Stay tuned as this issue continues to mature.

On a final note, we will now also begin a more concerted effort to track bill progress as most critical issues are in the process at some point. This is where the juggling act begins as we are watching budget items, committee schedules in both the House and Senate and also watching floor schedules for both bodies. It is somewhat like the orchestra with a lot of separate parts all moving at once. Stay tuned as we turn down the home stretch.

Until next time....enjoy