Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the County Council
|I love New Years. It’s a new beginning, an opportunity to restart and re-think, where all of us have a chance to reflect on past decisions and resolve to do things better. I take that opportunity seriously. As a result of some rethinking, the county is making a few changes that will make a difference next year. I thought it would be helpful to report on a few items that the council has and will continue to work on in an effort to improve services and maintain or lower the cost of government in the county. Due to space constraints, I can only mention a few today.
Heber light and Power
The County Council represents Wasatch County citizens on several major government-related boards affecting government services and other quasi government enterprises around the county. One such board is Heber Light and Power. As Chair of the Council, that assignment has been mine for the last year. In a recent meeting of that board, which due to a conflict with a county council meeting, I could not attend, the Board made a decision to offer health insurance to board members as part of their employee compensation package. Under the plan, the board could opt to receive the cash equivalent of that insurance as a direct payment in lieu of insurance. This payment increases the amount the board of directors receives by thousands of $$ per year. At the subsequent board meeting held a couple weeks ago, I stated that I would not take the payment and asked the board to rescind that benefit due to the un-acceptable cost it would impose on the customers of Heber Light and Power. I’m a customer, too. My request was rejected. After discussing this further with the County Council, we, as a group, extend a request that the insurance payment be discontinued. Heber Light and Power is a great company with highly trained, skilled, and dedicated employees. It has a long record of great service to its customers. It is also a public utility, so it has no competition. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the board to keep customer rates as a low as possible. This board-benefit decision was not in the best interest of our customers, and I hope it is reversed.
Parks and Recreation and the Events Center
Participation at the Recreation Center and almost every other program offered by the department continues to grow. Whether it’s basketball, tennis, batting cages, ski school, or simulated golf, Tom Bonner (Director of Parks and Recreation) and his crew can find a way for you and your kids to learn something new and to be active. Events Center (the “Pony Palace” to some of you) usage is also up. We added another asset with the completion of the stall barn this summer. That addition gives the center true year-round capability. The council also combined Parks and Recreation and the Events Center into one department under one management team. Synergies and efficiencies gained in combining management, with a renewed focus on attracting special events, will increase revenues and transient room and restaurant taxes (the funding source for the Events Center), resulting in lower relative cost for these facilities. You will also notice work being done by Parks and Recreation, Events Center, and Public Works employees to clean up and level out the old fair and rodeo grounds. Over this next year, this area will be transformed into more soccer, football, and baseball fields, as well as open park space, for the community. It will be a great improvement.
Heber Valley Sewer District
Construction will soon begin on an expansion of the waste water treatment facility for Heber Valley. The present facility is approaching its limit, not in treating waste water, but in its ability to disperse treated waste water on the sewer farm near highway 189. In order to be prepared for future growth to provide redundancy (always good in sewer treatment facilities), the board approved the construction of a mechanical treatment plant, parallel to our present facility, to handle a portion of the waste water. The resulting facility will allow management to use both old and new technology in the future including an ability to add new treatment technology as required. The real good news is that it will be done with accumulated impact fees so no new taxes or bonds are needed, and no user fee increases are anticipated.
What I think
(My thoughts may or may not be shared by others on the county council) As we begin 2012, Mike Davis, the county manager, under a mandate from the council, has completed the last eight yearly budgets without a tax increase, and at least four years without a wage increase, outside of health insurance, for county employees. (It should be noted that County Council members do not receive health insurance from the County) During that time, cuts have been made in employee numbers and other non-essential services in order to absorb inflationary increases in the cost of almost everything the county buys. Because the County is the collection agency for local property taxes on behalf of the school district, Central Utah Project (CUP), and other agencies outside our control, we hear the complaints from constituents about the hardship caused by increased taxes even thought the majority of these increases are completely outside of the control of the County. I would respectfully ask that, in the future, these taxing entities make every effort to keep the burden on our citizens as low as possible by increasing efficiency and cutting costs. I pledge to continue to do the same.
Your comments are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy New Year.
BY MIKE KOHLER