Sunday, March 06, 2011

2011 Legislative Session (Week 6 Udpate)

Well, the week six may be redundant for all of you who are actively following the session through your local newspaper. Most of the issues we were dealing with in week six were covered extensively in the press….especially that little old lady GRAMA. So, lets launch right in to it.

Well she (GRAMA) dominated headlines this week as the Legislature looks to curtail “fishing expeditions” of public records by allowing for greater ability to charge for access to public records, and also deals with what constitutes a record…to exclude text messages and instate messaging. The reform quickly passed both the House and Senate and now sits on the Governor’s desk for signature. It was unveiled late last week and was passed in about 3 days. I think it is safe to say that the legislature is tired of the unwarranted voluminous GRAMA requests that are being made to both state and local governments.


After a long Friday evening the immigration discussion is finally starting to come together. It looks like the omnibus bill approach is likely as Sen. Bramble’s bill now contains elements of several house bills. The house debated Rep. Wright’s guest worker bill late in to Friday evening and passed it over to the Senate for consideration. The final week will be huge as the final pieces come together on immigration, but it looks like a guest worker program with a much-modified enforcement bill will be the net result of this year’s debate.

FILM ENTERPRISE ZONE (undoing local zoning)

This issues should have been dead twice, but nothing in the legislature is dead until the clock strikes midnight on the last day of the session. While we thought we had the bill dealt with in committee last week, it was successfully “lifted from the grave” and placed on the Senate reading calendar for additional consideration. We will continue to explain to the Senate our concerns regarding the provisions that allow for the disregard of local land use control to allow for a “film enterprise zone”. This is a huge issue for local governments, and it appears it will come down to the wire in the Senate. We will keep you updated on its fate/progress.

Well that about does it for the highlights. We will be providing daily updates for the last four days as the budget discussions start to come together and we have a better handle on the outlook for the 2011-12 state budget.

Hope all is well…only four days left.

Your ULCT Lobby Team

Saturday, March 05, 2011

2011 Legislative Session (Week 5 Udpate)

Week 5 Update
Utah League of Cities and Towns

While week five was fairly anti-climactic, the beginning of week six started with a bang.

Quickly to week five, we spent most of week five negotiating on issues that are to be discussed during this week. Two major issues, billboards and the ongoing saga of Salt Lake County issues were resolved to our liking during week five and were heard first thing Monday morning. On billboards, we successfully punted the contentious issues to the interim, where we will be discussing billboard illumination standards. In addition we were able to work with the interested parties to resolve disputes with the ReAL Salt Lake sign and Maverik Center sign… all in all a successful conclusion.

On the SL County issues, we discussed these during the last update (See week 4 update at and those bill were handled as described in that update.

Lastly, Jodi and I were able to successfully draft and amend the bill dealing with our regulatory authority over the use of knives. The bill will have an amendment drafted to allow us to use our criminal code to regulate and prosecute crimes that are committed where a knife is involved. Again another win for us.

Like I said, most of the fire is to come in week six and seven.

Because one of our cohorts did such a great job on his update (thanks Wilf Sommerkorn of SLC) I have taken the liberty to include his summary of some key land use bills that were discussed during Monday’s deliberation.

An eventful day for land use bills Monday.

SB243 on historic districts was substituted, then failed to pass out of committee on a tie vote, not sure what happens next with this.

Another boxcar gains language, SB293, which makes some modifications to the MIDA law, primarily over annexation procedures

SB231 on the film studio enterprise zone, was not voted on in committee yesterday due to procedural issues, but did have its hearing and will be voted on in committee this afternoon. Link to a news story below:

HB487 was amended (much better, thanks Jodi!) and voted out of committee favorably yesterday

I hope this update finds you all well.

Your ULCT Lobby Team

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2011 Session -- Week Four

Week 4 Update
2011 Utah Legislative Session

Week 4 proved to be a great week for the ULCT. Not only did we mark the midpoint of the session last week, but we were successful in four major areas of our priority list (immigration, energy tax, alcohol, and RDA reform). So, lets get to the quick update.

While the press and others are continuing to call HB70, Rep. Sandstrom’s immigration bill and “Arizona-style” bill, it has been amended to the point in which it is very different from what was contemplated in Arizona…especially as it pertains to local law enforcement responsibilities.

The bill was passed out of the House on Friday with a significant margin and was debated heavily prior to passage. During such discussions, the ULCT worked closely with Rep. Sandstrom and other members of the house to get the following changes.
- Significantly limited local law enforcements ability to be sued by a private party for the way in which we choose to enforce the bill
- Provided discretion for officers in determining the priority of the stop as it relates to other potential emergency calls
- Removed the requirement to check immigration status on Class B and C misdemeanors
- Allowed for small jurisdictions (with only one officer on duty at a time) to have greater discretion on how to enforce the provisions of the law
The only additional outstanding question is how to handle the “awarding of public benefits” which is prohibited by this bill until immigration status can be verified. The question is what constitutes a public benefit. We are currently examining that provision to ensure that simple public services, such as sanitary services, etc. are still allowed. As soon as we have answers on those issues we will let you know.

Due to the significant changes in the enforcement provisions, we estimate that the enforcement of this bill will have a nominal budgetary impact to local governments. All-in-all, a big win for us on the financial aspects of the bill.

Week for also ushered in the release of the alcohol reform bill (SB314). Please see the text of the bill here:

The bill will be heard Wednesday morning in committee and should move smoothly through the legislative process. We will keep you posted on its progress

RDA Reform:
Our RDA bill was also heard in committee late last week. While the bill will be getting some tweaks in the coming week, we will be making some significant steps forward to ensure that RDA administration and TEC approval processes for RDA’s are less onerous on the agency. The major point of contention on the bill, dealing with an easier approval process for new central business district projects (simple majority vote instead of super majority) may get pulled out of the bill, but it appears that there is no agency chomping at the bit to get one of these started. As a backstop, we do have commitments that key legislative players will be watching upcoming TEC approvals of these types of projects, and if there are any problems we have a commitment to address them in the next session. With that, we have some comfort in dropping this provision from the bill.

Energy Tax:
What proved to be one of the biggest steps forward in week four was a commitment from SL County to drop pursuit of the Energy Tax authority this year in exchange for us agreeing to work with them on some key legislative issues (extension of police fee authority for the county and consideration on the Double-Taxation issue).

In a late-Friday meeting key parties in the ongoing SL County/City discussions came to terms on the major legislative issues dealing with the dealings of SL County and the cities in SL County. Here is a quick run-down on the agreement:

- SL County will not pursue the energy tax, and in exchange the cities will assist in amending legislation that would prohibit the county from imposing the police fee. We will be working with the county to amend the bill to allow them to continue to impose the fee for a few more years.
- The cities will not pursue legislation dealing with Double-Taxation concerns centered on HAZMAT and bomb services that are provided by the county and also provided by cities. In exchange, SL County will work on an inter-local agreement with cities to provide a “contracting” agreement for such services, where the county will contract with cities to provide those services. In addition the county will delve deeper into the issue of double taxation on other services
- In addition, the cities will not pursue legislation that would affect how the county pays for emergency services in recreation areas. In exchange the county and the cities will look further into the issue to see if any changes in the current practice are needed.

So, as you can see, it was a pretty good week for local governments. Here is a quick list of things to come during week 5.

- Working on terms of a billboard bill that governs off-premise signs
- Putting sales tax back on food is in committee early this week
- Appropriations issues will start to take center-stage as final budget numbers come in
- This may be the final week for committees, as they will begin to focus on floor time for bill consideration.

I hope this update proved helpful and please let me know if you have any questions on these or any other issues we are following.

2011 Session -- Week Three

With Valentine’s Day upon us, it was only appropriate that Sen. Valentine visited extensively with ULCT Policy Makers in week 3 on alcohol reform measures. While we are all still waiting on the final draft of the bill, Sen. Valentine went over his bill in extensive detail, outlining the key components and dispelling many of the rumors regarding the “monetization” of the licensure process. The key components of the bill have been covered extensively and include the conversion of existing tavern licenses to full-service restaurant licenses; modification to the current DABC application process to statutorily codify many of the current practices of the DABC, and also codify, what he describe as, the current process of allowing an incoming restaurateur to acquire an existing business and the associated license (monetization). Sen. Valentine had a very different take on what monetization would look like and assured us that it is simply a codification of the current practice and not a new concept for the DABC or this area of the law. Because we still haven’t seen the actual draft there are still some anxious folks, but in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Sen. Valentine “showed us the love” and committed to working with the ULCT to ensure that our concerns are addressed and also committed to delay the effective date of any DABC practices amendments to ensure that there are no unintended consequences.
In addition to alcohol reform, this week marked major changes in the immigration discussion as HB70 was significantly modified to remove the requirement to inquire on immigration status when police officers confront someone on routine traffic stops (Class B and C misdemeanors). It would only require and immigration inquiry on Class A’s and Felonies. With this change, there should be a significant reduction in the cost associated with the enforcement of this law. The bill included several other changes as well to include changes in the detention and booking requirements, as well as changes in who has standing to challenge the enforcement of the law. Because of the major changes, we have just included a link to the new bill for reference

Web Link:

City/County Issues:
On another note, this week was also a big week on the dealings between SL County and the cities in SL County, with the hallmark of this discussion being the request the county is making to be able to impose the energy tax. It appears that much of the energy is being let out of that request and questions on whether or not the legislature should continue to allow the county to impose the police fee are resurfacing. We will continue to negotiate with the county on how we accomplish our goal of wall-to-wall cities through effective utilization of the current tax structure and ensuring that county-wide services are paid for by county-wide taxes and unincorporated services are exclusively paid for with the county unincorporated “municipal” tax. This discussion will likely continue well into the week 4 and 5 of the session.

RDA Issues:
Finally, our large RDA rewrite is now published and out for review, so please take a look and let us know if you have any questions regarding this bill. It is fairly technical in nature so please have your redevelopment experts review the bill as well.

Web Link:

We hope this update finds you well and look forward to seeing many of you on the hill during week 4.

2011 Session -- Week Two

Well, it proved to be a fairly slow week in committee and on the floor during week 2, but big things were happening behind the scenes. Most notably, this week marked the final week to number and title all bills – that means we now know all the bills that are out there and will be actively looking at each piece of legislation to determine the impact on local government.

In addition, the week also included the unveiling of the much anticipated HB70 Immigration Reform Bill by Rep. Sandstrom. While the bill has changed significantly from the original concept, it still has a large enforcement component that will impact local governments. The ULCT was asked to assign a fiscal impact assessment to the bill, which we did. Conservatively, we anticipate the impact to be approximately $11.5 million on cities and towns in Utah. The number was analyzed by the fiscal analysts office and was determined to be prudent.

So, what do we expect for this week; there are a few things already taking shape. One, the committee process should start speeding up as time become more and more of a factor in the session. In addition, the simmering issue of townships/double taxation/and county services is also on tap for this week with a large meeting of all the cities in SL County and the County governing body getting together today to discuss all of the surrounding issues.

We will begin doing midweek reports this week as well since things will likely start speeding up.

As usual, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call or write.

2011 Session -- Week One

ULCT Week One Legislative Highlights and Recap (2011)

It was a very successful first week of the 2011 session for the ULCT. In addition to a great Local Officials’ Day Event, where over 750 local officials and youth city council members visited the capitol and met with their legislators, we were largely successful on all major issues that were being debated in standing committees and on the floor. Here is a quick recap of this week’s highlights.


· This week two of the major election modification bills (SB14 and SB18) passed out of the Senate and are on their way to the house. Both bills deal with the technical aspects of administering an election. The first bill allows for the cancellation of an election if the election is uncontested. There are still some minor “tweaks” that need to be made to SB14 to address timing concerns expressed by clerks and recorders, but the ULCT has been in contact with the sponsor and the Lt. Governors office and coordinated those changes to be made in the House. The second bill deals with contracting for election services and specifies that contracts for election administration must be cost based. This bill doesn’t appear to be of any major concern and should run smoothly.

Due to the departure of Rep. Frank, the bill dealing with moving the election dates for certain elections has been transferred to Sen. Hillyard for sponsorship. The ULCT will be working with Sen. Hillyard to ensure any change in election dates does not affect municipal elections.


· HB197 -- Regulation of Temporary Signs – The ULCT worked all week with the interested parties on this bill and it appears that it will likely be addressed during the interim where greater consideration to the nuances of regulation of speech/signage can be addressed. The bill was scheduled for a committee hearing during the first week, but was pulled from the agenda while we continue to work with the sponsor on the bill.

· HB78 -- Development Fees – This bill likely needs to be discussed with everyone. It appears there is some confusion over what the anticipated practical effect of this bill would be. The ULCT will be working with the sponsor to address the concerns that have been expressed about the potential negative impact to the current development fee structure.


· HR1 – 2/3rd vote on a tax or fee increase. This bill was successfully defeated in committee this week on a 7-7 vote. Because of the close nature of the vote, there may be some chance that the bill would come back for consideration. We will be keeping a close eye on this one to make sure it “stays in the grave”

· Energy Tax for Counties – It appears that SL County has found a sponsor for their energy tax authorization bill. This bill was strongly opposed by the policy committee and we will be working to ensure its defeat. We have already met with the sponsor, Sen. Jerry Stevenson and will be working with him to ensure our position is understood and addressed. In addition, this bill is being run while two other bills are being run to limit the county’s ability to impose the police fee. We will also be watching those bills to ensure that they don’t get amended to provide the energy tax as the alternative funding source for the police fee.


· HB70 -- Rep. Sandstrom’s bill is now public and available for review. It has not yet received the fiscal note, but will soon be given one and then sent to the committee for consideration. The bill has been amended a good deal since the original concept was aired, but it appears the agreement on an immigration policy is far from done. We will be watching this one closely as it is prepared for committee consideration.


· While some alcohol bills have been heard in committee (HB42), the major alcohol bill, Sen. Valentine’s bill, is still being prepared for committee consideration. We have been working diligently behind the scenes to aid in the creation and promotion of this bill. The one component of the bill that is still fairly controversial is the concept of allowing for the monetization and private sell of one’s license. This provision is still being debated heavily. We likely need to discuss our strategy on how to deal with this aspect of the bill.

Spice Ban

· HB23 --The spice ban bill was also debated in committee this week and passed out with a favorable recommendation. It appears that this bill is well on its way to passage.

Well that sums up some of the major topics for week one. As more unfolds, we will provide additional updates.

We hope this finds you well, and hope you have successfully survived the first week of the 2011 session.

Friday, November 05, 2010

October 2010 Legislative Update

Most parties acknowledge that America’s immigration system is broken, and communities through out Utah and the country are suffering the consequences. Those consequences include divisive dialogue on how to solve this problem, cultural mistrust, community isolation, criminal activity, and economic inequality that continues to foster a divide in our communities.

In light of the many concerns regarding the current state of the issue, several Utah legislators, on both sides of the issue, are working to address the problems that they perceive, and many of the legislative efforts are focused on enforcement-based solutions. With an understanding that any enforcement-based solution will require local governments to act as the enforcement entity, the ULCT has begun to compile data from the state’s various police departments on the anticipated costs and resources that will be required to carry out any potential law change.

While the ULCT Policy Committee has not yet weighed in on the social and policy issues surrounding immigration reform efforts, we have been working diligently with legislative leaders, the state fiscal analysts, and most city police departments to gather pertinent fiscal information that will be necessary to fully understand the fiscal impact of immigration reform.

We anticipate that once formal proposals have been formulated, the ULCT Policy Committee will also begin to focus on any policy issues that may cause concern. We are in the process of compiling the fiscal information we have received and will be sending out the numbers and analysis in the next few weeks which will hopefully provide more insights into the costs and resources required of local government for this effort. If you have questions about the various proposals that are being contemplated please let me know.

As is likely the case in your community, the tough budget continues to drive much of the dialogue on Capitol Hill. While in June, the state fiscal analysts were telling legislators to anticipate the year-end deficit (ending in June) to be as high as $150 million, with tax collections complete and the report from the State Division of Finance released, there was some “good news” issued in late September. I say “good” in the sense that it is better than the anticipated $150 Million potential deficit.

Instead of the anticipated $150 Million shortfall, actual revenue to actual expenditures left the state with a $28 Million deficit. That was created by tax receipts being $48 Million less than anticipated, but state agencies spent $20 Million less than authorized, leaving a net $28 Million deficit. That $48 Million short fall in receipts is held both in the education fund and the general fund, with $4 Million assigned to the general fund and the remaining $44 Million attributed to income tax shortfalls that are dedicated to the education fund.

So, what does it all mean? Well fortunately during the 2010 session the State anticipated and provided resources to address these small deficiencies to avoid a mid-year crisis. So there is no “dooms-day” to speak of. In addition, the state is much better off than they anticipated back in June, so I guess that can be construed as “better” news … maybe not “good news”, but certainly “better news than anticipated”. Inevitably, however, the state will still be looking to grapple with a daunting budget during the 2011 session, making appropriations requests and general program funding a difficult task for all involved.

Land Use:
The Land Use Task Force and its subcommittees have been working diligently this summer to identify and negotiate beneficial land use bills for the 2011. The most comprehensive effort has been directed toward an Impact Fees Act re-codification, which we are proud to report reorganizes an otherwise difficult act, clarifies agreed intent and actually adds flexibility for those local governments who, because of the slow economy, have either decided to support affordable housing projects by waiving impact fees for the project, or have decided to repeal or suspend their collection of impact fees for the near term.

This year, the Land Use Task Force also concentrated on revisions to the Local District statute to bring local districts under the same impact fees, reasonable diligence, rip cord and exactions mandates that govern cities, towns and counties.

A third Land Use Task Force bill will add accounting parameters to the imposition and collection of Development Fees. The notion is that Development Fees should be similar to business license fees in that they should be imposed only for the actual cost of delivering the service. However, the bill does not restrict the types of development services for which fees are collected. Nor does it require a fee study prior to the imposition of development fees.

The Billboards subcommittee of the Land Use Task Force negotiated to a d├ętente with the Billboards industry during the interim and other than a beneficial bill to strengthen UDOT enforcement of billboard regulation along the state highways, we expect no billboards legislation this year.

Finally, the Water Law subcommittee of the Land Use Task Force has negotiated a one year hiatus from change application legislation as it continues to develop a consensus based approach to reforming what some have characterized as a “secret decoder ring” process to change water from agriculture to urban uses in the State Engineer’s Office.

The Land Use Task Force has been as successful in channeling dialogue about certain land use issues as it has been in developing consensus-based legislation. We have received commitments that proposed legislation to restrict aesthetic or historic district legislation will not be pursued this year. Similarly, threatened Transfer Fee legislation should not surface in 2011.

As in the past, we believe we will receive united opposition from each of our members (developer and government alike) to any proposed land use legislation that has not been vetted through the Land Use Task Force.

Although the budget situation continues to focus on revenue shortfalls there appears to be little likelihood of tax increases. Several “one-time” tax adjustments mentioned during the last session (quarterly estimated payments and modification or elimination of the vendor sales tax discount) remain part of the discussion. The ongoing funding for transportation may at some point involve a gas tax increase. The critical issue for cities is to ensure that any change is part of the existing distribution formula. Lastly, there is an ongoing examination of public education capital equalization options. All general agreement as to the need there is wide divergence as to the funding method.

General Government:
Because the legislative elections have been consuming most legislator’s time during the summer and fall, very little is being discussed regarding general municipal government issues. As usual, there will be several pieces of legislation with a municipal impact, but there are not major issues being contemplated by legislators that we are aware of. ULCT staff has, however, been working with stakeholders of a few proactive municipal changes. Most of these changes affect just a handful of communities, but a quick run-down of the items may be helpful. If you have any questions on any of these items don’t hesitate to drop us a line and we will be happy to provide more detail.

1. Alcohol Reform: Working on legislation to create more full service restaurant liquor licenses in exchange for a reduction in unused tavern licenses
2. Redefining a qualified “food bank” to include municipal operated “food banks” – this allows for state assistance with operations of municipal food banks.
3. Allowing for council reappointments during military deployment of a councilmember.
4. RDA Changes – Address urban core redevelopment and TEC approval process for such activities.
5. Legal Non-Conforming Use of rental dwellings and building code upgrade requirements that can be imposed.
6. Change in form of government process clarifications.

Recap and Overview:
As you can see, preparations are well underway for the 2011 session with plenty of items to consider. We anticipate that the pace will increase significantly after the November elections, with a mad-dash to the start date to the session. We will keep you apprised of the pertinent municipal issues as they become available.

Until Next Time....Enjoy!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pension Reform Taking Center Stage Nationally

It looks like several states are contemplating major changes in public pension reform. Even the staunches allies of public employees are realizing that the "run-up" in benefits is now the largest threat to the current pension system. Reform efforts are being discussed by many state legislatures. I wonder how many will follow Utah's lead.

Here is a great article from the NY Times on the topic:

Your Legislative Team

Monday, June 07, 2010

E-Verify Compliance (SB81-2008)

Many of you may be in receipt of a letter from the Attorney General's office regarding the implementation of SB81 from the 2008 session. This bill requires the verification of immigration status when city, town, county or special district issues an RFP for a contract.

The law stipulates that beginning July 1, 2009, a public employer may not enter into a contract for the physical performance of services within the state with a contractor unless the contractor registers and participates in the Status Verification System to verify the work eligibility status of the contractor's new employees. The bill only applies to RFP's and does not affect "sole source" work. In addition, the law DOES NOT apply to volunteer work. It should also be noted that the law DOES NOT require you to verify immigration status; but rather the bill requires the contractor who is responding to the RFP to certify that they are verifying the immigration status of their employees. Hopefully this nuance should make municipal compliance far easier.

The AG's office will be issuing a follow-up letter with additional implementation details to assist you in your compliance efforts. In addition our general counsel, David Church, is drafting a policy outline that can be utilized and should satisfy the requirements outlined in the law. As soon as it is complete, we will be sending out the information via email and will also make it available on our website.

We do anticipate the immigration discussion to continue during the 2011 legislative session, so please anticipate more changes to come. We will post regular updates and information in an effort to keep you apprised of the status of this issue.

Until Next Time...Enjoy!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Half Way There

So, we are officially half way through the 2010 session and we are faring very well. Here is a quick recap of several major items.

  • Billboards: All "anti-regulation" legislation affecting billboards has been successfully shelved for 2010. We intend to work on these issues extensively through out the summer.
  • Eminent Domain: There has only been one major eminent domain bill that is making progress this year. All other bills have been successfully sidelined. The one bill, SB81 has been amended substantially. What originally started as a bill that would allow for prevailing party attorneys fees in condemnation cases has now morphed into a bill that facilitates condemnation settlement by allowing both parties to submit preferred offers and only if the courts determine that a settlement is outside of the range of both offers is there liability for attorney's fees. In those circumstances, fees are capped at $50K.
  • Anti-Trust: Our proactive bill to clarify the municipal exemption from anti-trust litigation is moving well. Is is scheduled to come out of committee and go before the Senate this week. No major road blocks are foreseen.
  • Retirement: The two major retirement bills, SB43 and SB63, have both passed out of committee favorably. The first, SB43, restricts "double-dipping", whereas the second makes major cost-saving changes to the current retirement system by changing the benefit structure for new employees hired after July 2011. Both are now before the Senate and we anticipate passage of both.
  • Land-Use/Impact Fees: We have fared very well this year on this front, successfully amending or stopping bills that would hamper our cities ability to regulate land use or utilize impact fees
  • Water: It has been a fairly quiet year for water bills this year. Our only major bill, which allows for a municipal/domestic preference in water rights during times of shortage is scheduled for committee this week and should go well. It was slow out of the gate so we will be sure to keep a close eye on this bill and keep you apprised of any changes.
So, what to expect for this week. It is a huge week this week, as budget numbers come out on Wednesday and will largely shape the remainder of the session. As soon as they are out we will let you know what they look like.

Please contact the ULCT with any questions you may have on local government issues (

Your ULCT Lobby Team

Friday, February 05, 2010

2 Weeks Down and Major Progress Made

So we are two weeks in to the 2010 legislative session in Utah and things are going well for municipal government. Here is a quick recap of some of the major events for week 2.

  1. We have come to terms on HB102 Impact Fee Amendments. With a substantial substitution the bill is a major improvement on the original. We have maintained the integrity of impact fees for school facilities and have simply provided for a mechanism for appropriate credits toward impact fees for improvements made by school districts. -- MAJOR WIN FOR US
  2. We have a settlement on all four pieces of billboard legislation. All of the legislation was aimed at limiting a cities ability to regulate billboards. We successfully negotiated to stop all legislation regarding billboards in the 2010 session and force them to interim study during the 2011 interim period
  3. Housing Regulation -- Several of our cities had concerns with a state preemption on housing regulation and interactions between landlords and renters. We have successfully amended the bill to create a baseline standard for "Fit Premises" and have still allowed for local autonomy to create additional local ordinances governing fit premise.
  4. Eminent Domain -- We are still negotiating on major eminent domain legislation that would award prevailing parties attorneys fees to litigants in certain circumstances. Hopefully we will have this issue resolved this week.

So, as you can tell from the quick and dirty breakdown, we had a great week. Thanks for all of the support of our member cities.

For more information please feel free to call.


Your ULCT Lobby Team

Utah League of Cities and Towns

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Great Local Officials' Day Event of Capitol Hill

We had a great Local Officials' Day event on Capitol Hill today; providing an opportunity for local elected and appointed officials to interface with Utah State Lawmakers and also creating a great luncheon environment with former Mayor Rudi Giuliani. We hope all who participated enjoyed the event.

On a business note, we will be posting blog updates as frequently as possible on the progress of the session and will be sure to recap each week at a minimum. If you have any questions on issues facing local governments on Utah's Capitol Hill, please call the ULCT office to be routed to my cell phone, which serves as operation central during the legislative session.

Thanks for watching our blog and look for updates on a frequent basis.

Lincoln Shurtz

Monday, January 18, 2010

One Week To Go until the '10 Session

We are now one week out from the 2010 legislative session and the preparations for the session are well underway.

Please make sure you check this blog regularly for municipal updates on the session. While we will inevitably be watching several bills this session we try and keep our updates focused on the 10 or so major policy issues that will be dominating the agenda for the cities, towns, counties and the legislature.

This year we have already been spending an immense amount of time on the following issues:

  1. State Budget: Because of the difficult financial and economic circumstances that we all face, the budget will be a major driving force for all decisions at the legislature this year. We plan to provide up to the date feedback on budget negotiations, legislative initiatives related to the budget and any municipal impacts associated with the budget balancing effort
  2. Retirement Reform: While this has dominated most of our summer, it is only going to get more intense and the session begins. We will keep you up to speed on the 4 reform bills that will be making there way through the legislature
  3. Anti-Trust: There is a growing concern about the lack of clarity in the current exemption that is afforded to cities and towns in anti-trust litigation. We will be proactively addressing this issue to help clarify the current exemption, and will be sure to provide frequent updates on our progress
  4. Water: There are several water bills this year ranging from domestic provider preference in water rights to tax treatment of public and private water companies. Because cities and towns are one of the largest owners of water in the state we always spend a lot of time on these issues. Watch for the updates as they come in.
  5. Land-Use: We anticipate a fairly slow year on land use issues, but the perennial billboard issues and impact fee issues will likely pop-up, and as they do we will be there to report on their progress or lack thereof.

In addition to the blog, please check our website ( where we will also post our updated status sheet of all legislation that we are tracking. Hopefully between these two resources (Blog and status sheet) we can keep you apprised of the occurrences of the next 45 days.


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 and

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 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!