Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Final Part -- Part V: Water and Land-Use

Here it is -- the final post in our five-part series. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as we have enjoyed writing it. Without further adieu, here it is:

Part V: Water and Land-Use

Land-Use Issues:

The Land Use Task Force has reached closure for the 2009 interim and has unanimously recommended two bills this year: and impact fee bill and a subdivisions bill.

The subdivisions bill simply takes away the state mandate for a public hearing on certain minor subdivision amendments such as lot line adjustments, internal lot revisions, etc. The bill won’t alter your local ordinance requirements, but it removes the state requirement for the public hearing. To take full advantage of the legislation once it becomes law, each jurisdiction will then need remove the public hearing requirement from its ordinances for these types of minor subdivision amendments. Senator Stuart Adams has agreed to run this bill.

The impact fees bill is slightly more complicated. The big news is we have achieved consensus that the cumbersome notice requirements to plan for and amend impact fees enactments will be reduced to electronic notice on the state public notice website! (Yes, that’s right: no more sending notice of the beginning, middle and end of the process to the Utah Homebuilders, Utah Association of Realtors, Utah Association of General Contractors, Daughters of the American Revolution, etc.) An entire forest has breathed a sigh of relief in anticipation of the bill passing! The bill also defines the word “encumber”, declares that any refund belongs to the person in title to the land on the date an impact fee was paid, and extends appellate relief to those who pay impact fees during the gap between an adverse opinion of the Office of Property Rights Ombudsman and a similarly adverse decision from the court system. Senator Wayne Niederhauser will run this bill on behalf of the Land Use Task Force.

Water Issues:
There are many water bills that will grace the legislature this year. Many are technical bills that remove arcane requirements from the antiquated state water laws. The bill that we were most interested in last year: the domestic water preference bill sponsored by Kerry Gibson, has been reworked, and approved by the Water Coalition and the Executive Water Task Force. The bill allows a preference for drinking water, fire flow and sanitation purposes in time of a temporary water emergency that is declared by the Governor. The preference can last as long as two years. Just compensation is required to be paid to the water rights holder that sacrificed his water for the emergency needs of the public system.

As other water bills get drafted, we will provide updates on what they entail.

We hope these updates have been helpful and again please let us know how we can be of any assistance.

Your ULCT Legislative Team!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Part IV: Ambulance Service

And now with our fourth installment -- Emergency medical services.

Part IV: Ambulatory Service Issues:

As cities and counties are uniquely positioned, and asked, to provide for the general health, safety, and welfare of their communities, the ability to regulate emergency transportation within their jurisdictions is a key cornerstone to the provision of public safety and health. Local governments throughout the state have worked closely with private providers to assist in this effort, and in many circumstances, rely heavily on the private sector to help with these services.

The current licensing and regulation framework, where the state applies universal licensing provisions for private and public providers, but allows for local regulation of some practices has positioned Utah as one of the best managed states in the nation in its provision of emergency transportation.

For the past several years, a private provider has complained that the current process of state licensure is anticompetitive and has asked for law changes that would allow for direct negotiations between emergency transportation operators and hospitals with little or no city or county oversight. Cities and counties have continued to express concern with these proposals due to the potential that such negotiations could undermine the ability of single providers to remain profitable within a given geographic area. With current licensure requirements that require ubiquitous service within a given geographic area, it is imperative to ensure that the license holder is self-sustaining. In addition, cities and counties have increasingly begun to assist in providing such services as the public provider. Those public provider contracts are obtained either through direct negotiations with the current private provider or through the awarding of a contract to the public provider by way of an RFP process.

While we currently do not anticipate legislation this year, we do wish to continue to educate the legislature on this matter to ensure a complete understanding of our position, which includes the following key components:

  1. Cities and Counties are charged with the maintenance of general health and safety, and emergency transportation is a key component to the provision of public safety and health.

  2. Ensuring the viability of a single provider, within a geographic area, is imperative to ensure adequate public safety service and response.

  3. Cities and counties should be able to regulate certain aspects of the operation of emergency transportation within their communities to maintain general health and safety.

  4. Cities and counties should be able to provide emergency transportation services if a private provider is not capable or willing to provide adequate service.

  5. Competition should not occur at the hospital level, but should occur at the licensure level, where geographic service areas are considered in their entirety and universal service and coverage are contemplated as a part of a larger service component.

  6. Allow Cities and counties to designate a single dispatch system such as VECC for all ambulance service requests. Such a system eliminates confusion for the public, provides a single medical protocol and consistent dispatching of ambulance service to meet the correct medical and transport needs of the public.

We look forward to working with the legislature in the coming years on this important public safety issue, and appreciate the support we have received to maintain our high standard of public safety response and service.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Part III: Transportation Funding

Here is our third installment of the five-part legislative update series. Today we will focus on local transportation funding.

Part III: Transportation Funding

With the continued increase in costs associated with construction and maintenance of transportation infrastructure the necessity for local government to be adequately positioned to address the growing transportation needs of their respective communities is equally growing. In 2008, the local government portion of the motor fuel tax covered roughly 50% of the cost of highway construction and maintenance, and with the reduction in motor fuel tax receipts and the growing demand for infrastructure, we anticipate that gap to widen in 2009.

With that dynamic in mind, we are also cognizant that the State of Utah is facing an unprecedented economic downturn that will inevitably limit the state’s ability to enhance the current revenue sharing arrangement that exists for the current motor fuel tax. As both the state and local government grapple with shortfalls in their respective general funds our ability to continue to subsidize transportation construction and maintenance with general fund revenues is diminishing significantly. While we all recognize that with a downturn in the economy it is difficult to look at revenue enhancements as an acceptable solution to the problem, we are anxious that if we do not get in front of this issue the cost to retrofit and repair dilapidated roads when the economy recovers will cost the taxpayers significantly more money than staying on top of the issue from the outset.

We would like to explore the opportunity of pursuing authorizing legislation which would allow counties, with the endorsement of the cities within the given county, to pursue a local option user fee revenue source to address critical transportation needs within the county. There are several facets to the concept that are outlined below:

  1. Pursue legislation that would allow the county to adopt an additional local/county option user fee (motor fuel tax/sales tax) to address transportation infrastructure issues within the county.

  2. Require that a majority of cities within the county must affirmatively request the county to examine the local option authority prior to implementation by the county.

  3. Require that a portion of all proceeds be spent on projects of regional significance within the county where the funds are generated.

  4. Require that the remaining portion of funds generated from the user fee be split between the various cities and the authorizing county based upon a statutory formula similar to the current local B&C formula (weighted lane mile).

  5. All funds generated within the county stay in the county where the funds are generated.

We would like to work closely with the legislature to examine this or other possible tools that may be pursued by local governments to address the important issue.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Part II: Public Sector Retirement Issue

As we continue our five part legislative update, here is part II, which deals with the public sector retirement issues. We will be highlighting transportation funding in part III.

Part II: Public Sector Retirement Issue

As the economic downturn continues to take its toll on general fund of state and local budgets, one of the more subtle, but equally significant effects of the downturn is being felt in public sector retirement programs. The Utah State Retirement System (URS) has seen fund losses for 2008-09 of approximately $5 Billion or 24% of the total URS portfolio value.

For the general health of the State's budget and in order to maintain an actuarially sound retirement system, we are anticipating steady increases in the retirement contribution rates that will be required of public employers to maintain the current benefit package for public employees. At this point we can only speculate about future increases in state and local government retirement funding obligations, but most experts believe we will witness increases for at least the next 2-4 years.

Because the budget impact could be quite large, many state and local government lawmakers have expressed concern about the funding liability that the current system may require. In light of this concern, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, Utah Association of Counties and the Utah Association of Special Districts have been meeting with members of local government employee groups, peace officer groups, firefighter associations, city and county management associations, local government finance officers, and the staff of the URS to discuss possible alternations to the system. We have invited the chairs of the Retirement and Independent Entities interim committee to participate in our effort as well.Local governments see immense value in maintaining a defined benefit system but also recognize that changes are necessary to ensure that the current system does not become an overwhelming liability and the budget priorities of the state and local governments can be fully realized. We have established a set of guiding principles and have begun discussing various alternatives to the current system.

Thus far, two alternatives have come to the forefront of the discussion. They are outlined below:
  • Alternative 1: Defined Benefit with Employee Contributions
    This alternative would not reduce any pension benefit for any retirement sub-system, and would allow for the continuation of a defined benefit system for future public sector employees. It would allow the state and local government employers to cap the employer contribution rate at the 2009-2010 rate (11.66% Local, 14.22% State, and 26-30% Public Safety), and require that participating employees contribute the remaining portion of the required, actuarially adjusted contribution rate for the 2010-2011 year (1.7% Local, 2.1% State and 1.8%-3.7% Public Safety) and all future years, where the rate is yet to be determined. This option would allow for all employee contributions to be exempt from vesting requirements, thus increasing employee portability from URS. With the establishment of the employer contribution rate, it is anticipated that the employee contribution amount will float from year to year based on actuarial assumptions that will be made by the URS.

    This option would limit the amount of employee contribution to not allow an increase of over 2.5% year over year (smoothing), thus limiting employee exposure. This option would also require that the employer make a 401K or 457 payments to the employee if the actuarial assumptions require less contribution than what has been established as the capped employer rate, which would be based on the 2009- 2010 rate (11.66% Local, 14.22% State, and 26-30% Public Safety) . This option would not preclude the employer from “picking up” the employee’s required contribution as a part of an employee compensation package.

    Fiscal Implication: This option would eliminate the need for additional state and local government appropriations for the 2010-11 fiscal year, but would require the employee to either take a compensation reduction commensurate to the employee contribution match or payment of the additional contribution could be negotiated with the employer as a part of the municipal or state compensation arrangement.

  • Alternative 2: Prospective Defined Contribution Option
    This alternative would guarantee existing public employees a defined benefit system as currently constituted and not require any additional employee participation in the defined benefit system. This option would, however, not allow new employees employed after 2010 to participate in the defined benefit system. Instead, a defined contribution system would be offered to all “new hires”. The defined contribution amount would be negotiated by the employer and employee at the time of employment. It would also require that a portion of what otherwise would have been paid into a defined benefit system under the current system be set aside by the employer for all “new hires” to underwrite the cost associated with phasing out of the current defined benefit system for existing employees.

    In essence, this proposal looks at moving toward a Defined Contribution plan for all new employees while guaranteeing the current benefit package for all existing employees.

    The ULCT is working closely with legislative leadership and members of the Legislative Retirement Committee to evaluate these options and others that may be contemplated. This process is still very fluid, and we will continue to provide periodic updates as they become available. The next legislative meeting on this issue is scheduled for November 12, 2009.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Legislative Update: A Five-Part Series

As we prep for another legislative session, we thought it would be helpful to highlight some key issues we have been working on over the interim period. To avoid an overly-long posting, we thought we would break the issues into five separate posts -- I know you can hardly wait to read them all. Today we will focus on our first issue -- General tax policy and budget review:

PART I: General Tax Policy and Budget Review

Well, there isn't much to say about the state budget, other than it is not looking any better as we begin to approach the 2010 legislative session. We are currently staring an $850 Million dollar shortfall in face and don’t anticipate any improvements prior to the session -- in fact, many are bracing for an even wider state funding gap. This year there will be no federal stimulus funds to back fill cuts to critical programs and, as of now, there is little or no momentum to look at revenue enhancements. State appropriations committees are beginning discussions on how to cut roughly 15% from each department of the state, and some of those cuts will obviously have a trickle down effect on local government programs that utilize state funding.

We are keeping a close eye on most of these discussions and will continue to keep you updated as committees make recommendations on budget cuts. In addition to budget cuts we do anticipate discussions to begin on revenue enhancements at some point. The likely candidates at this point include the tobacco tax, alcohol tax and possible reinstatement of sales tax on food, but as mentioned earlier those discussions are still appearing fairly premature. We will keep you up to date as they proceed.

On another tax note, the Revenue and Taxation Committee of the legislature is also examining a few issues of general interest. There will be a recodification effort on the code sections dealing with transportation taxes. We have been heavily involved in this effort to ensure that the recodification did not inadvertently harm current local option transportation tax authorities, and those discussions have been very successful. The effort will simply look at “cleaning up” the code with no real substantive changes. In addition, there has been some discussion regarding statewide equalization of the basic property tax levy for education. While the ULCT has not engaged on this issue due to conflicting points of view among the various cities, we did want to make you aware that the discussion is occurring, and if it is of interest you should make sure you are contacting your legislator to articulate your opinion on the equalization effort.

As always there are likely to be additional tax bills of note, but this at least captures some of the very general concepts that are being discussed.

Look for Part II to this legislative update tomorrow, where we will focus on the public sector retirement issue.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Water Issue Update

The Executive Water Task Force met yesterday, August 4 at the Department of Natural Resources. Lt. Governor Gary Herbert addressed the Task Force with respect to its new responsibility to provide the governor with recommendations for enhancing canal safety for 6600 miles of public and private water canals throughout the state. Lt. Governor Herbert stressed the urgency of the task at hand, emphasizing his perception that “our review and oversight [has been] inadequate-- particularly since we’re the fastest growing state in the nation.” He charged the group to start asking the right questions: “Who is responsible? What is local government’s role? What is a high hazard canal? What about multiple use of canals? What is the state’s responsibility? How can we better assess canal safety? What are funding sources for canal improvements? Are there better methods for moving surface water?”

Rick Ellis, from the Utah Geologic Survey presented his thoughts on the recent canal break in Cache County. He stressed multiple causes for the canal break—including irrigation of lands surrounding the canals and public use of the canals as storm water conveyance systems.

Sterling Brown, Utah Farm Bureau lobbyist, heads a subcommittee of the Task Force assigned to address these issues. Mr. Brown noted that the subcommittee considered taxing the population surrounding the canals for tax revenues to fortify the canals and providing private canal companies with immunity from liability for negligently maintained canals. Warren Peterson, who is also on the subcommittee, placed the blame of poorly fortified canals on the public, which surrounds them. “These canals were not a hazard until people started to live around them. It is clear that the community has externalized the cost of new development on the canal company.”

Most of the Executive Water Task Force appeared to want to place blame on “communities”, which allow development and appear to want local government to be the funding source and regulatory body for canal safety. The Executive Water Task Force is clearly stacked with interests, which would like to pass blame from the canal companies to anyone they can (other than the state or the canal companies).

It is interesting to note that, independently, the Land Use Task Force has been discussing the role of public and private irrigation canals in the subdivision process. From the developer’s perspective, the canal companies hold them hostage for system-wide improvements to canal systems in exchange for getting the canal company to sign off on subdivision plats.

Local governments appear to be smack dab in the middle of the controversy, both as potential regulators, but also as potential contributors to canal surcharging during storm water events.
Both the Executive Water Task Force and the Land Use Task Force will continue to study the problem and develop proposals to enhance canal safety.

For a surprisingly accurate account of the Executive Water Task Force, see also http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_12992357 and http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_12992378

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Public Employees Retirement System Update

On July 13, 2009 the Utah League of Cities and Towns conducted it fourth subcommittee meeting on the Utah State Retirement issue. At this meeting we had asked the various participating entities (Counties, Cities, Special Districts, Police Associations, and Fire Associations) to be prepared to evaluate and prioritize the various retirement modification options that have been provided by the Utah State Retirement System (URS). The group was asked to prioritize from “most acceptable” to “least acceptable”. We also asked that each group come prepared to discuss the issue of having an employee retirement contribution component considered, whereas now most public sector employees have their retirement solely funded by the public employer contribution.

In order to fairly prioritize the various options, we felt that a common set of assumptions would be necessary, so we had also established a set of assumptions for the various options. Below is a list of those options and assumptions:

Benefit Options and Assumptions:

Non-Contributory to Contributory Threshold:

Assumptions: Please evaluate the sensitivity of having a shared employer/employee responsibility for making a pension contribution. The idea being that the employer would make the contribution to a certain level (the current contribution level). After that level is reached, the employee would assume either partial or full responsibility for the remainder of the required contribution amount. Any amount contributed by the employee would be portable and would not be subject to vesting requirements.

Option 1: Redirect the 1.5% 401K contribution to the URS

Assumptions: From this date forward the 1.5% contribution would be redirected to the URS System. This would apply to all current and future employees.

Option 2: Change the Final Average Salary (FAS) calculator from the highest 3 years of salary to the highest 5 years of salary

Assumptions: Those retiring prior to 2011 maintain 3 year (FAS); those retiring after 2011 but prior to 2013 get 4 year (FAS); those retiring after 2013 have a 5 year (FAS).

Option 3: Change the years of service multiplier from 2.0% per year of service to 1.9% per year of service

Assumptions: Apply to only future years of service, and only apply to those not eligible to retire.

Option 4: Change the minimum age of retirement (55)

Assumptions: Change the minimum age of retirement to 55 and grandfather all those who are currently eligible to retire.

Option 5: Change the minimum age of retirement (60)

Assumptions: Change the minimum age of retirement to 60 and grandfather all those who are currently eligible to retire.

Option 6: Members pay full actuarial cost of retiring prior to age 65 if they have less than 30 years of service (rather than the 3% currently applied)

Assumptions: Apply to all current members of the system who are yet to retire

Option 7: Defer the COLA to the 3rd anniversary of retirement or 1st anniversary after turning age 65.

Assumptions: Apply which ever comes first (age 65 or 3rd anniversary). No grandfathering.

Option 8: Move from a 20 to a 25 year retirement for public safety and firefighter retirement.

Assumptions: For new hires only

Option 9: Change post-retired employment and associated contributions

Assumptions: Those who are rehired after retiring would still draw a pension, but make a full contribution to the state retirement system, or could reactivate and forego the pension to acquire additional years of service.

In the meeting we went through the various options to determine the level of acceptability for all participating groups. In doing so, we have found that there are some options that have a natural gravity, but others clearly split the groups based on the disproportionate impact that they may have on certain categories of employees. After receiving the feedback, it was determined that a smaller working group would get together to compile a comprehensive package, or set of packages for the larger group to evaluate. We are now in the process of that compilation and will be meeting again in August to follow-up on the effort. Upon the completion of this effort we will be submitting the agreed upon package to the various group’s policy committees for final recommendations. We intend to have the entire effort completed in time to respond to the legislative request for recommendations for their September legislative meetings.

If you have any questions about this effort, please feel free to call or write the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Update on Municipal Water Issues

The Water Coalition met on Thursday June 25 at the office of the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake & Sandy. Fred Finlinson chaired the meeting. He reviewed 12 priorities of the Executive Water Task Force:

  1. Water title/conveyance issues
  2. Domestic preference for public water suppliers (response to Kerry Gibson’s repeal of the domestic preference in water law)

  3. State Engineer’s consideration of prior “non use” in change applications

  4. Property tax exemptions for water-related property (pipes, pumps, treatment facilities) of private water companies

  5. Rainwater capture

  6. Taxing authority for appointed boards

  7. Shareholder change applications]

  8. Accountability of the State Engineer with respect to pending adjudications

  9. How small water change applications relate to zoning prohibitions (blue lines)

  10. Elimination of the State Engineer bond

  11. Colorado River over-appropriation

  12. Public access along river and stream corridors

The coalition discussed each of these items briefly, and then engaged in an in depth discussion of several topics.

“Non Use” Considerations in Change Applications. After HB51 passed in 2008, the prior State Engineer, Jerry Olds, took the position that the new law prohibited him from looking into whether or not the water right in a change application was in fact a “good” right, representing real wet water or a “bad” right that had been subject to “non-use”. This practice was criticized by the Water Community, because it had the potential to convert “bad” paper water rights into good rights through the change application process.

The new State Engineer, Kent Jones, has taken a more moderate position than his predecessor and is asking for legislative clarification. To that end, a Water Coalition drafting committee of Mark Stratford, John Mabey, Warren Peterson and Steve Clyde are working on language that would assure that only the amount of water that consistently has been put to “beneficial use” can be changed into a new use, or a new place or time of use. Specifically, the law would be drafted to explain that holding water for the “reasonable future demands of the public” (HB51 language) would be considered beneficial use for change application purposes.

This practice will help municipalities that have already converted water from agricultural use to municipal use, but are not in fact consuming it at present. However, it will not help municipalities convert agricultural water that is not being put to beneficial use—even though the agricultural water is being held by the municipality for the reasonable future demands of the public. Under this practice, the State Engineer would look to the extent of the use of the water as agricultural water and would not enlarge the right from the agricultural use simply it is being held by a municipality.

The drafting committee will bring specific “non use” language to the next Water Coalition meeting. This will be a hot one this summer.
Domestic Preference. The group spent a fair amount of time discussing the domestic preference concept and seemed to conclude that the 2010 legislative proposal should include two components:

  1. A broad preference for municipal use among equal priority right holders in times of scarcity;

  2. A temporary, narrow, domestic preference limited to water for human consumption, sanitation, health and safety that would “jump” priority in times of scarcity if just compensation is paid for the temporary use.
The broad preference for municipal use is of limited application because it only pertains to equal priority rights. Typically, equal priority rights are the earliest rights that are subject to an adjudicated decree. The later priority rights typically have unique priority dates and generally do not overlap one another.

The temporary, narrow domestic preference is the more controversial of the two, but likely the most important. To gain its use, a public water supplier would have to require control (cut off) all outside watering, industrial and discretionary use prior to justifying a leap in priority of other water rights. This preference would be used only in an emergency situation of temporary duration, with just compensation required.

The group is struggling with a definition of scarcity. The group discussed standards for an emergency declaration of scarcity and would like to keep the definition of scarcity as objective and transparent as possible.

Taxing Authority of Appointed Boards. Some members of the legislature are requesting on some level of electoral oversight for each taxing authority. The large conservancy districts believe that it is essential to the dynamics of their organization to keep their current board composition—both elected and appointed members. Not long ago, the law allowed voters a special route to refer tax increases in these situations. That opportunity was removed from the law five or six years ago. The group believes that restoring this limited referendum route may resolve the issue for the legislature.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Utah's Public Employee Retirement System -- Changes May Be Coming

As the economic downturn continues to take it's toll on general fund of state and local budgets, one of the more subtle, but equally significant effects of the downturn is being felt in public sector retirement programs. The Utah State Retirement System (URS) has seen fund losses for 2008-09 of approximately $5 Billion or 24% of the total URS portfolio value.

For the general health of the State's budget and in order to maintain an actuarially sound retirement system, we are anticipating sizable increases in the retirement contribution rates that will be required of public employers to maintain the current benefit package for public employees. At this point we can only speculate about future increases in state and local government retirement funding obligations, but most experts believe we will witness increases for at least the next 2-4 years.

Because the budget impact could be quite large, many state and local government lawmakers have expressed concern about the funding liability that the current system may require. In light of this concern, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, Utah Association of Counties and the Utah Association of Special Districts have begun meeting with members of local government employee groups, peace officer groups, firefighter associations, city and county management associations, local government finance officers, and the staff of the URS to begin a dialogue on possible alternations to the system. We have invited the chairs of the Retirement and Independent Entities interim committee to participate in our effort as well.

Local governments see immense value in maintaining a defined benefit system but also recognize that changes are necessary to ensure that the current system does not become an overwhelming liability and the budget priorities of the state and local governments can be fully realized. We have established a set of guiding principles and have begun evaluating various alternatives to the current system. We intend to complete our analysis of the various alternatives by September 2009 and have a set of recommendations that can be brought forward at the September meeting of the Retirement and Independent Entities Committee of the Legislature.

If you have interest in the work that is being conducted or would like to learn more about our efforts, we have published all of our meeting details and handouts on our web page.

Here is a link to that information:

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Online Legal Notice Posting -- A prudent approach to notice posting

The ULCT has been working closely with Sen. Steve Urquhart to address the issues surrounding the posting of public notices and legal notices. Sen. Urquhart has introduced SB208 Utah Public Notice Website Amendments, which allows for the posting of legal notices on the state notice website. In doing so, the bill also stipulates that the posting of such notices on the website satisfies the legal notice requirements, therefore waiving the need to post the legal notices in a newspaper of general circulation.

In doing our research for the bill, it is clear that the bill will certainly save local governments a considerable amount of money. We surveyed several cities and towns and on average, most cities were spending between $10,000 and $50,000 on notice postings. In light on the economic climate as well as diminishing public resources, it is our opinion that a move in this direction is both fiscal responsible and prudent.

Some have argued that removing the requirement to post in the newspaper will significantly diminish notice, but we would beg to differ. As hard-copy subscriptions continue to drop and online dissemination of news becomes the norm, it appears that a move to online postings may actually provide enhanced notice. If there is sincere concern about diminished notice, an easy answer would be to provide both online and hard-copy links to the Utah Public Notice website from the major newspapers in the state. Such notice could be given in a very low cost manner and ensure enhanced public awareness of the notice website. In addition, because the bill is permissive it would also allow jurisdictions to place additional notices in the newspaper if there were unique circumstances where such notice would be prudent.

In light of some of the concern raised about Internet access in rural parts of the state, Sen. Urquhart has also intended to limit the scope of the bill to counties of the first and second class, where Internet access is not a concern.

One must question the sincerity of the newspaper's concern, when they were part of the coalition that lobbied for the initial Utah Meeting Notice website, where meeting notices could be linked to and the requirement to provide individual notice to the newspaper was waived. Now, however, when legal notices are contemplated there appears to be deep concern on the part of the newspapers regarding transparency. The only difference --- meeting notices do not generate a revenue source for the papers, but legal notices do.

We hope Utah's lawmakers do continue to demonstrate prudent fiscal management and allow for more cost effective, online noticing. We would also encourage you to contact your Senator today to let them know you support this legislation.

Thanks to Sen. Urquhart for taking on this tough issue.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ambulance Legislation Reviewed

As the session continues, it appears that the ambulance service bill is clearly getting the post attention. It could be that practically every lobbyist on the hill has been hired on this bill, or it could just be a sincere interest in making sure we get quality ambulance service -- you decide :)

In light of the scrutiny that this bill is receiving, I thought it would be well to outline the most recent concepts surround the legislation, so here they are.

  1. The current legislation is limited to first and second class counties, and allow private ambulance providers to compete against each other at the hospital/patient level to provide ambulance service on non-911 calls (inter-facility calls).

  2. A proposed substitute has been circulated by Southwest Ambulance to allow cities/towns to determine if they would like to RFP ambulance service, and if so they can maintain geographic exclusive contracts so that only one provider is able to provide service within the given city. If a city decides to opt for the RFP, such a designation must take place prior to January 2010. If no RFP model is designated, then the area is open to competition at the hospital/patient level and no geographic exclusivity is provided. Under this model cities can respond to their own RFP

  3. Gold Cross has also proposed substitute language that would mandate an RFP model that would be administered by the Department of Health. Cities and private providers can respond to the RFP and geographic exclusivity is granted to the winning bidder. Once a contract is obtained, that contract is good for a period of 4 years and can only be challenged after the 4 year period expires. This model would be made available on a statewide basis

  4. Based on feedback from ULCT Policy committee, we have been arguing that we are okay with an RFP model so long as cities can respond to the RFP and cities either control the RFP process, or the cities recommendation to the Department of Health is given deference unless the Department can demonstrate that the recommended provider is unable to provide the necessary services.

At this point it is unclear which model will be pursued, but all ideas are on the table for consideration. We will be following this closely and will be sure to provide future updates.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Billboards, Townships, and Ambulance Legislation consume the week

This week has largely been consumed with discussions on billboard legislation, townships, and ambulance service; but I am happy to say that we have been pretty successful on all fronts. I will quickly go through each.

1. Billboards: As expected, both Billboard bills have come out of committee, but not without much discussion and concern expressed. We have subsequently been able to sit down with members of the billboard industry to discuss both bills and think that compromises are in the works. HB141, which limits local height restrictions will likely be amended to allow for greater municipal input on surface street sign height, in exchange for more flexibility of freeways. HB272 which deals with sign restrictions on scenic byways will also likely be amended to address oversight concerns with the Byway Committee, but will not allow for automatic segmentation of scenic byways. This bill has more work to be done, but it appears the direction we are heading is positive.

Townships: I may be speaking too soon, but a township meeting tomorrow will likely tell us where we stand on a compromise with the counties. It appears that there is only one sticking point that should be easily resolved. It deals with who has ultimate authority to grant an annexation from a township to an existing city. We have argued that a neutral third party should be responsible for that decision, while the county feels that they should have final say. Outside of that issue there appears to be consensus on the bill --- Hope we can come up with something.

Ambulance Service: This has been an interesting ride. The arguments only appear to be getting louder and more obnoxious. We have expressed deep concern with allowing ambulance providers to have direct contracts with hospitals with little oversight of service delivery and response time. We do, however think the obnoxiousness is about to break and real negotiations are soon to occur. We will keep holding out hope, and let you know how it goes.

On a final note, it appears that a deal is in the works on impact fees for schools and state facilities. We will post the details in our next post, but thought we would at least let you know that our suggested language is being incorporated to ensure impact fees are paid, but have made some concessions to ensure that there is more predictability and transparency in the impact fee process. Look for more info in future posts.

Until next time...Enjoy!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Week 3 Update

Well, things are finally taking shape, so here is quick run down of current issues:

1. Transportation Funding: Still a huge issue for both the state and local government -- the only hurdle is getting past a dreaded tax increase. While everyone agrees we need to continue with both state and local projects, no one wants to raise taxes. Other issue -- making sure any revenue enhancement has a local road component.

2. Impact Fees: Fees on Schools and state facilities are being heavily scrutinized. We are looking for ways to increase accountability and consistency in an effort to reduce legislative pressure to remove our ability to impose such fees on schools and state facilities.

3. Billboards: Another big issue, not sure of the right answer, but reducing local government's role in relocation of existing signs that are being displaced due to road construction has many concerned. We are working with interested parties to get this one resolved.

4. Water: Seems like all of the water bills have been figured out. I think we have this issue corralled for now.

5. Ambulance Service: The bill that wold allow for inter-facility transfer contracts between private providers and hospitals has many concerned about the impacts that such contracts could have on current E-911 service. The bill passed out of committee on Friday, and a "full court press" is on for the House. We have huge concerns -- look for talking points on this one soon.

As you can imagine, there are many other issues out there. Please review our status sheet at www.ulct.org. If you have any questions please feel free to inquire.

Until next time...Enjoy!!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Impact Fees Take Center Stage

Today was dominated by discussions on impact fees. We have several impact fee bills up for consideration during this legislative session, and it appears that the tsunami of impact fee bills is upon us.

First, we spent a good portion of the day negotiating with members of the state capital facilities departments on whether or not state projects should be subject to impact fees. This bill, HB274, sponsored by Rep. Wallis we preclude the imposition of impact fees on state facilities. Obviously this causes a fair amount of concern from those communities that anticipate hosting future state facilities. Fortunately, the discussions on this stuff is going fairly well and a solution should be forthcoming.

On the other hand, Representative Steve Sandstrom passed his HB259 out of a house committee today, which allows the bill to have full consideration of the house. His bill would preclude the imposition of impact fees on schools. The ULCT in coordination with the Home builders and Realtors has opposed the bill, but there appears to be enough skepticism about the methodology behind calculating impact fees that there appears to be a growing sentiment behind limiting impact fees. Obviously we will be working diligently to address these concerns and negate the necessity of this legislation. Talking points to articulate our concerns will be sent out soon.

In other news, we have also received a good-faith commitment from the sponsor of the billboard legislation, HB272, to address our concerns with that bill. We will be trying to work through those issues in the next few days and will report back with our progress, but certainly a positive note to have that commitment and we owe our thanks to Rep. Herrod for his willingness to work with us.

On a final note SB135 Taxation Authority of Special Districts also passed out of committee today and will advance to the Senate floor. We have a commitment from the sponsor to address our concerns relative to limiting the tax authority of some special districts (namely water and sewer districts) and feel comfortable that our concerns will be addressed. The intent of the bill is to limit its applicability to service areas instead of applying it more broadly to service districts. With that change, we limit the impact to a very few entities. If you would like more specifics on this one let me know.

That about does it for today. I hope this finds you well... ENJOY!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Transparency in Gov. Finance and Taxation of Special Districts

Well today two of the more anticipated bills for local government were drafted and numbered.

First, we have SB18 First Substitute Transparency in Government Finance . While the first bill SB18 was out much earlier, the substitute, which addressed many of our concerns was made available for public dissemination.

Here are a few concerns that were expressed as well as the response outlined in SB18 First Substitute.

1. We raised an issue with the ability of small jurisdictions to comply with transparency requirements. In response, Sen. Niederhauser has provided a special exception for jurisdictions with a budget less than $10 Million dollars, which allows for special consideration of their financial capacity and technical capabilities.

2. We raised a concern regarding the timing of implementation. Sen. Niederhauser has subsequently delayed implementation of the legislation's effect until May 2011 for municipal governments.

3. We raised concerns regarding the volume and complexity of information that would be required by the proposed compliance. Sen. Niederhauser has responded by taking the rule making authority away from the State Department of Finance and giving it to the Transparency Advisory Board, of which we will be members as a result of this legislation.

4. We raised concerns regarding a requirement to submit information in a format similar to the state's website format. In response. Sen. Niederhauser has allowed for us to simply comply by linking our existing websites to the state website to allow for a unique format for each city.

5. We raised concerns regarding potential liability for disclosing protected records inadvertently. To address this concern, a liability waiver was included in the substitute.

As you can see, with every question and concern, Sen. Niederhauser has been extremely willing to work with us on the issue. While I believe that most of our membership still has some anxiousness about the unintended consequences, we cannot diminish Sen. Niederhauser's willingness to work with us to address our concerns.

While we are yet to hold a legislative policy meeting to formalize our position on the bill, the ULCT staff will be recommending that our membership support the bill as a healthy compromise that both addresses our major concerns while still accomplishing the objectives put forth by Sen. Niederhauser. We will be recommending that we all work closely with the Transparency Advisory Board and Sen. Niederhauser to work out the specifics.

The second bill that was brought forward today was SB135 Local District Taxing Authority, Senator Bramble. As drafted this bill would preclude a special district from levying a property tax unless the board met one of the following three criteria. (1) The Board of the district was made up of independently elected officials; (2) The participating local entities imposed the tax on the districts behalf; (3) Took the property tax levy to a vote of the people.

Because many cities and towns have raised concerns about the impact that this legislation may have on small water and sewer districts, we will be working to ensure that such districts are exempted from the legislation, as the bill is targeted toward much larger, complex districts. In discussions with Sen. Bramble, he is willing to address our concerns and has asked us to work with him on drafting amendments to the bill. Amendments are in the process of being drafted and should be available next week.

We are pleased with the level of cooperation that has been demonstrated by Sen. Bramble and feel confident that our concerns can and will be addressed.

Please look for further updates in future posts.

We hope this finds you well and until next time .... Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Local Officials Day on the Hill

Well, today was certainly eventful on Capitol Hill with nearly 800 local elected official and youth city council members in attendance, the ULCT ushered in the 2009 Local Officials' Day on Capitol Hill with a bang.

The day was filled with great speakers on topic ranging from press and media relations to a great lecture from Dr. Joseph Ellis, Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Founding Brothers". We were excited for a great day on the Hill and want to thank everyone who participated with us.

On a legislative note, HB68 Development Exations also passed out of committee today unanimously. This bill was crafted with the work of the ULCT Land Use taskforce, and is another demonstration of who multiple interests can come together to accomplish their respective goals. This should provide the capstone to a multi-year effort to reform water policy in Utah for local governments, which included the powers established in HB51 of the 2008 session and culminates with this bill.

We don't anticipate any problems during the House floor debate when it occurs.

Until Next Time...Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

State of the State Delivered

With the State of the State behind Governor Huntsman, it appears that the legislature is back atop the main stage of this 45 day long event and will largely be directing the course of action for the next several weeks. While the Governor mentioned issues ranging from ethics reform to renewable energy resources to community service, the legislature in most circumstances has a very different approach than the Governor in almost every category.

The debate back and forth as been less than passive and exchanges have been far more pointed in recent commentary. Many members of the legislature have expressed deep concern regarding possible attempts to do away with party caucus and nominating processes, which were eluded to tonight during the State of the State as efforts to promote more participation in the election process. In addition, the course on ethics reform varies widely both among various legislators as well as the Governor. This will likely be a hot button topic for much of the session and was certainly a center piece to the State of the State.

In related news, the more subtle battle on transportation funding appears to be taking shape as some legislators have eluded to the outstanding bonding capacity that is available for transportation projects ($1.5 Billion) and have encouraged the executive to push for enhanced bonding. It also appears that the Governor is willing to take some projects off the "Hold" list and reengage UDOT on those projects. The question that must be asked is if that is response to the bonding "question" posed by some members of the legislature or is it rather an attempt to gear up for anticipated federal stimulus money.... your guess is as good as mine at this point.

On the revenue front, the gas tax is also getting a lot of dialogue among legislators. It appears that recent polls are in conflict as the recent Deseret News poll state that 70% oppose a tax, yet more detailed polls that identify certain projects that would be funded by a gas tax increase appear to sway polling preference and nearly 70% support a gas tax once they realize which projects would be funded. These conflicts in polling has many pausing to reevaluate where this issue should go. It is anticipated that this will be a negotiation point between that House and the Senate. We will let you know how this one is shaking out as it takes more shape.

On a parting note, not much occurred in committee today for local governments. As in years past, the first week is usually pretty quite. The League of Cities is now in the throws of preparation for tomorrow's Local Officials Day on Capitol Hill. We will let you know how it goes.

Hope to see you there. Enjoy!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

And we are off !!

With a blazing start, we are off to another fun packed legislative session. While we spent most of the day on pomp and circumstance, the work of the Legislature has been well underway for the past several weeks. It is anticipated that the Legislature will be ready to adopt a base budget on Wednesday that will then be submitted to the Governor for approval. Once established, the base budget becomes the building blocks from which the state will operate.

At this point most are merely speculating on whether the base will be a base upon which priorities will be added or if the base will be a place to begin a further examination of what needs to be cut. Either way the base budget is a significant starting point for the discussion.

In other news, issues affecting local government were quick to go to committee, and equally as quick to be pulled from committee agendas. Two township bills, a boundary adjustment bill and others were all scheduled to be in committee tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 27) but have subsequently been pulled. Both township bills were pulled to allow more time for the negotiations between the cities and Salt Lake County on unresolved annexation issues, and the boundary adjustment bill was pulled to allow for additional amendments that were requested by the ULCT to ensure that any potential unintended consequences associated with the change in effective dates of future annexations and incorporations were mitigated. We will report back on these two issues as they surface again.

On a final note, a few Revenue and Taxation bills will be in committee on Tuesday the 27th. One is to change the funding paradigm of public education by reducing property tax and imposing a sales tax in its place. In addition, Rep Froerer's bill on Truth-In-Taxation ads will be in committee as well.

Looks like the fun is just beginning.

Until next time enjoy!!!