Happy 2020 and best wishes for the new year!
I am writing this month about two issues.
The first of these issues is Alta’s fire protection and emergency services costs. Alta is a member of the Unified Fire Authority, a regional fire service. We are mainly served from Station 113, which is on the Bypass Road, near Snowbird, but when needed, service is supplemented from a wide network of stations in the valley. Alta is currently paying 7.5% of the costs of Station 113. This allocation stemmed from an arrangement made about 20 years ago when Alta went from a volunteer fire department to having professional coverage. Alta, however, receives about 29% of the services provided by Station 113 and the total cost for providing UFA services to the Town is actually about $627,000, not the $153,000 we pay. The difference between what we pay to and what we receive from the UFA has been covered by mainly by two sources: 1) allocations from Salt Lake County’s general fund in the form of a “recreational area contribution” for the canyons of the Wasatch Front; and, 2) other UFA members’ fees (because the County’s recreational area contribution of about $3.1M is lower than the costs of actually providing UFA service in the canyons). That is, Alta’s UFA services have been subsidized by the County and other members of UFA.
Unfortunately, conditions that supported this subsidy have changed. Here is a general outline of my understanding of the major relevant factors:
· Residents of Big Cottonwood Canyon began to organize an incorporation effort to create the Town of Brighton. Their fire service needs shined a light on other arrangements with UFA.
· SL County’s District Attorney issued an opinion that the County’s general fund may not be used to provide municipal services in municipalities. This opinion implied that were Brighton to incorporate, they would lose their recreational area contribution subsidy. (And this opinion has not been advantageous for Alta, either.)
· The Utah legislature passed a bill that allowed SL County to create a Mountainous Planning District (MPD), which is a land use (zoning) authority controlled by SL County.
· After the District Attorney issued his opinion, the Utah legislature passed a bill that allows SL County to designate formal Recreation Areas and to provide public safety money for them and municipalities within them from general fund money.
· Brighton is part of both the MPD and SL County’s designated Recreation Area. Alta is in neither; state code does not allow Alta to be in the MPD and SL County excluded Alta from the Recreation Area.
· As part of the unincorporated SL County, property owners in Big Cottonwood Canyon have been served by UFA. But they pay a standard tax rate like most who are served by the UFA because both before incorporation they were and now, after incorporation, they are a member of the Unified Fire Service Area (UFSA). The UFSA is a taxing authority that collects money from property owners directly.
· In Alta, Cottonwood Heights and Holladay, the municipalities collect various taxes and contract directly with UFA; in the rest of the UFA service area, fire costs appear as a line item from the UFSA on property taxes (like the Canyons School District’s costs are on our property tax bill as a line item). That is, Alta is a member of the UFA but not the UFSA. The Town of Brighton will continue to be a member of UFSA and its property owners will continue to pay fire service fees of about $770,000. (The actual costs of providing service to Brighton are higher and Salt Lake County’s Recreation Area contribution to Brighton is about $1.7 million.)
I have been and am continuing to work very hard with the UFA, the SL County mayor’s office, the SL County Council, and with state legislators to address these issues. Our discussions center around three main points: 1) Alta’s public safety services serve many more people than just the town’s residents in so far as people come to Alta for recreation; 2) Alta has been caught by forces it did not create; and 3) Alta’s property owners have been paying an arguably very low fee for its fire service compared to other SL County residents (including those in Snowbird, who receive the same services from the same station as Alta). My expectation is that one way or another our fire protection costs are going to increase. How much they increase depends on the extent of any money we receive from other agencies.
The second issue for this month is the composition of Alta’s Planning Commission. Commission seats have terms of five years, and our town code says they should be staggered so that one comes up each year. For reasons I have not fully explored, two seats expired at the end of 2019 and three will expire in 2022. Seats are appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the Town Council. I reappointed Dave Abraham to a second term on the Planning Commission, but to begin to re-stagger the seats, I made Dave’s appointment for four years; the Town Council concurred with this appointment. The other Commissioner whose (second) term expired in 2019 was Roger Bourke. While I believed that Roger had served very well on the Commission, I also believed it was inappropriate and unwise to reappoint Roger given that his wife Margaret is now on the Town Council (because, among other issues, the Town Council is the land use authority that considers appeals of the decisions of the Planning Commission). The town’s attorney and the attorney for the Utah League of Cities and Towns agreed that having spouses serve on these two government bodies is not best practice. However, the Town Council turned down my appointment of another highly qualified person to serve on the Planning Commission.
There are of course many other issues that I am pursuing on behalf of Alta. But this is enough to discuss for now. Have fun in the great snow we’re enjoying!