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.