Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2009 Presession Legislative Synopsis

Transportation Funding:
The ULCT has been working closely with legislative leadership for over a year to discuss an implementation strategy for additional transportation funding resources. It is anticipated that the legislature will contemplate increases in transportation funding. The ULCT will be working to ensure that any transportation funding increase is shared with local governments by way of the traditional B&C split of 70% for state projects and 30% for county and city projects. Currently the Governor has included an increase in the vehicle registration fee for his budget that was presented in early December. As drafted, the budget does not contemplate sharing any of the increase in revenue with local governments, but rather being used to exclusively address the state capacity projects that were delayed in Late November.

Telecommunications Taxes:
In light of recent distribution problems associated with the 1% local option tax on telecommunications, it is anticipated that legislation will be introduced to allow for a more methodical redistribution of funds in the event of any future misallocation. Both cities and counties have recognized that redistributions of misallocations can catch jurisdictions by surprise and attempts should be made to ensure that future repayments are made over a longer period of time to allow all jurisdictions to prepare for any unanticipated budget hit. The ULCT will be working to ensure that a full repayment is made to the appropriate jurisdictions, but the subcommittee charged with looking at this issue has determined that we should support legislation that smoothes out any transition so long as we all agree to full repayment.

Immigration Issues:
The ULCT will be working with the legislature to help clarify the intent of last year’s comprehensive immigration bill (SB81). We will be looking to address the following issues: (1) determining what constitutes a public benefit, whereby identity verification is required; (2) Responsibility for employment verification for private contractors who contract with a city or town; (3) coordination efforts between the Attorney General’s Office and local government and immigration enforcement (if any is required by an MOU); (4)How the Memorandum of Understanding between the jurisdictions and the AG's office will be handled; (5)Which ways can immigration status be verified and questions surrounding the effectiveness of the current verification system.

Transparency in Government Finance:
There is likely to be legislation to continue the effort toward complete governmental transparency of financial records. The intent is to make all governmental financial records available via the internet and searchable by account-type, vendor, date, etc. Currently the State of Utah is working toward this goal as a result of legislation that was passed last year. The anticipated legislation for this year will I include an effort to have the same transparency for cities, towns, counties, school districts and special districts by 2011. While most agree that the goal is laudable, there is some concern over the magnitude of information that may be required to be made available. We have been working closely with interested parties to help define the scope of the project to ensure that the effort will not come at a large expense to cities or towns. We have been assured that special consideration will be given to entities that are ill-equipped to handle the current requirements. We have also negotiated a position on the steering committee that is responsible for defining the scope of transparency for local government. We will be watching this issue closely and will be sure to provide updates as things progress.

As many cities have been experiencing problems associated with overwhelming records requests that are designed to harass rather than retrieve information, we are looking to amend the GRAMA laws to address harassment and ensure that those using such tactics pay the full cost of record retrieval. We are in the process of working the press and other interested parties to address this issue and will update you with language as soon as it is available. This request for legislation was made by the Salt Lake County Municipal Clerks and Recorders Association.

Open and Public Meetings Amendments:
It is anticipated that a standard procedure will be adopted for the “approval of meeting minutes”. The intent is to simply codify the standard practice of most jurisdictions, which simply requires the governing body to approve minutes by a formal vote. It is also anticipated that we will standardize the process for making meeting minutes available to the public. Such meeting minutes will be made available upon completion by the clerk and once they are ready for inspection by the governing body. Lastly it is anticipated that the recording of the meeting must be made available to the public within 72 hours of the meeting.

It is anticipated that the legislature will entertain removal of the sunset date for county created townships. Currently townships in SL County are set to expire in 2010. Several cities within SL County have expressed concern with the removal of the sunset date which would allow townships to exist in perpetuity. The major concerns include conflicts of interest that the county has when acting as both a regional government for all areas of the county and distributing regional funds, while also being a municipal service provider to some unincorporated areas of the county that are competing with municipalities for regional funds; in addition there is concern with the way municipal services are being provided in unincorporated areas, and the county’s perceived lack of responsiveness to the needs of the cities located within the county. As the township mode, whereby the county provides municipal services has begun to migrate to other counties, the concerns are becoming a larger statewide issue. Currently the ULCT is attempting to work with SL County for a mutually acceptable solution.

Taxation Authority of Special Districts:
There has been some concern expressed by the legislature regarding special district’s accountability when it comes to taxation issues. We will likely see efforts to limit special districts’ ability to impose a property tax. As many cities and towns operate dependent special districts for water, sewer, mosquito abatement, etc. this type of legislation will certainly have an impact. We will be working with the legislature to ensure vibrant and stable revenue options are available to special districts. It is anticipated that we will have to increase local government “accountability” when imposing such taxes and will be working to address that issue rather than simply limiting revenue options.

Wildland Fire Suppression:
A taskforce including city, county and state officials has been working on a proposal to address current funding problems associated with wildland fire suppression in the state. The current process requires municipalities to offer “first attack” efforts to state and federal properties located within their jurisdiction. In addition, any additional costs borne by the state for the fighting of fires on state or federal lands located within a municipal boundary are also the responsibility of the municipality. The intent of the legislation will be to identify a new funding source (anticipated natural growth in current insurance premium tax) that can be used to underwrite the costs of fighting wildfires in Utah regardless of the jurisdiction. The law will still require that cities provide first attack efforts and will be responsible for code enforcement and fire mitigation efforts, but all other cost would be covered by the newly created fund.

At the request of several cities, we will be looking to extend the window to allow for an enhanced public safety cost of living adjustment. Current law only allows jurisdictions to opt-in to the benefit until December 2009. Due to the economic downturn some cities who wish to offer the benefit will be unable to do so by the December ’09 deadline and are therefore looking for an extension to the deadline.

Disproportionate Service Fees:
The ULCT will be working to address an oversight in current state law which precludes any jurisdiction that does not currently have a disproportionate service fee from implementing such a fee. We intend to clarify that new jurisdictions can adopt the fee so long as the underlying criteria for doing so is met.

Alcohol Proximity Changes:
Proximity restrictions related to government and religious facilities that were included in last year’s alcohol amendments legislation have created some problems for many cities. We anticipate tweaking some of those restrictions to simply mirror the restrictions that were in place prior to last year’s legislation.

Agricultural Protection Areas:
We anticipate some legislative efforts to limit local government’s authority to regulate nuisance ordinances or impose new zoning designations on agricultural areas. The concern that has been expressed is that we (Cities) are allowing development in some of our most critical agricultural areas and then enforcing residential nuisance ordinances in traditional agricultural areas. It is perceived by some that we should be prohibited from allowing such development and precluded for enforcing nuisance ordinances for ordinary agricultural practices. The ULCT has opposed the bills in the past, as it encumbers local official’s ability to make land use decisions, and anticipate that we will be working against such measures again this year.

Charter School Amendments:
The ULCT will be pursuing legislation to standardized practices for site plan approvals for charter school placement.

Sewer/Water Lateral Location Amendments: There has been some concern expressed with the ability of utility to companies to locate sewer and water laterals that hook into our sewer and water systems. Legislation will be introduced this year to address the issue by requiring entities that put in public improvements to make those utilities and “cleanouts” locatable. The legislation has been worked on by many of our public works officials had has received their endorsement