Heading in the Right Direction

Heading in the Right Direction
Posted on 02/03/2017

By Council member J. Scott Bracken

At a recent neighbor’s funeral, many comments and anecdotes were conveyed about the good things he had done over his lifetime. Helping family, visiting neighbors, using personal skills to help others, keeping a clean yard and clear sidewalk - the very things that make our neighborhoods and community a place where we feel at home. We shop, play, talk, and interact with a myriad of people every week – and despite our differences, we typically share that desire to make our homes and communities the best they can be.

A couple months ago, the city conducted a community survey. I took a few minutes to review comments and suggestions that were made. As has been previously reported, the overall feeling in Cottonwood Heights is that the city is going in the right direction, with four times as many agreeing with that statement as those who disagreed. Similarly, it was gratifying to note that 75 percent of respondents approved of how the mayor and council were handling their responsibilities. I take those responsibilities seriously as they are something that I can do to make our city the best it can be.

One of my key responsibilities is answering the questions and concerns of citizens. This can happen virtually anywhere or at any time – shopping, walking, playing, worshiping, and answering the phone or email. I appreciate people taking the time to ask a question or tell me what they think about what the city is doing. I find that in most cases where a complaint or concern is the issue, a short discussion about why things are the way they are, or an explanation behind the decision-making process helps considerably. When I don’t know an answer off the top of my head, there is a great staff at the city that can help find the answer.

As I read through many of the comments/concerns expressed by survey respondents, I noted a few places where a bit more information or background would have probably resolved the stated concern. I would like to tackle a couple of them here.

Our new city hall is beautiful, but there was some misconception that the city may have exercised condemnation powers (eminent domain) to acquire the land. This is simply not true. Each of the property owners negotiated in good faith with a third-party agent (to avoid influence in knowing that the city was the ultimate purchaser) to a mutually agreeable sales contract. Another concern was that such a building would significantly impact traffic at the high school, or on Bengal Boulevard and 2300 East. Bengal usually accommodates about 10,000 car trips per day, and the traffic engineer’s estimate for an office building of the size/type of city hall shows the impact to be approximately 300-400 extra car trips per day – including police activities.

We added pull-out and street parking to help traffic flow at peak times (school drop off and pick up).

A number of comments also suggested that the costs of building our own city hall were excessive. As with home ownership, initial costs are always higher, but over time will be much less than renting space, as the bonds (mortgage) can be paid off, while rent goes on (and up!) forever. We worked hard to contain costs and reduce them wherever possible. In December, Layton Construction even brought us a $15,000 rebate check because we worked with them to bring the final cost in under the guaranteed maximum price (see below). City Manager John Park and Assistant City Manager Bryce Haderlie deserve a lot of credit for keeping building costs down.  

One of the primary objectives for the new building was to create a community gathering space. The public areas of the building are available to citizens to use for meetings, banquets, celebrations, or whatever.  The city uses it for training, the holiday and volunteer activities, and it will serve as the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) if the need arises. 

Other comments dealt with law enforcement. The overall sentiment was very much in favor of our police department. Their response times are the best in the county – averaging 4.19 minutes for Priority 1 calls. Even four minutes feels like a long time if you are in an emergency situation, so having someone there quickly is imperative.  Also, our lower priority calls receive response times to well under 10 minutes.  The officers I talk to like to work in Cottonwood Heights. They like the atmosphere and the leadership.

However, there were still a number of people who claimed that such excellent service was unnecessarily expensive, or that other service providers would be cheaper or better.  A quick bit of research found that not to be true at all.  Our police budget for this year is roughly $5.4 million (CH 2016-2017 CAFR), while if we were part of the UPD Service area, our property tax assessment for police services would be $6.2 million (service area tax rate 2016: 0.001925 x CH taxable value - $3.2 billion). Chief Robby Russo and the CHPD administration work hard to keep costs down and service levels up. 

The top issue, according to the survey respondents, is growth – and how we handle it.  This is always an area that generates diverse opinions. Should we limit commercial growth or should we focus on it? Should we allow higher density residential housing or keep things as is? How do we plan for the future and ensure the growth that will happen is integrated into what we want our city to be?

We are actively engaged in many long-term planning groups (like Envision Utah) and studies for the long-term Ft. Union plan. The amount of public input and the willingness of citizens to participate in those groups/studies is always appreciated – and typically higher involvement than in other communities.

I very much appreciate the engagement of our citizens. I look at the opportunity to serve, interact, educate, be educated, and to understand what my neighbors want for our city as a benefit of being a council member. I hope it will be remembered someday as part of my contribution to my neighborhood and the city I call home.