2017 Year in ReviewJan 01, 2018 10:38AM ● By Cassie Goff
Butlerville Days is the most significant event for the city every year. (Dan Metcalf/Cottonwood Heights)
2017 was an eventful year for the Cottonwood Heights City Council. Many of the important issues to residents were addressed and discussed, as reflected in multiple surveys. Some issues were resolved, while others will continue to be discussed through 2018. There were also many memorable events during 2017, some of which were within different city organizations for which council members work personally. A majority of noteworthy events and discussions from this past year stemmed from resident engagement.
Over the past few years, the Cottonwood Heights City Council has contracted with Y2 Analytics to conduct resident surveys in order to better understand resident opinion throughout the city. The results of the most recent survey were reported to the council during the past few months.
From these results, Y2 Analytics could confidentially report back that “Cottonwood Heights residents like the city and the direction we are going, generally,” said Councilman Scott Bracken.
Some resident feedback stood out to the council. One of the first results showed that many Cottonwood Heights residents are very concerned about open space within the city.
“The overall survey showed strong support for encouraging the city to continue its efforts to enhance the development of parks, trails and open space,” said mayor-elect Mike Peterson.
Since open space is of such concern for residents, the city staff and council have been working on an Open Space Master Plan. This plan will continue to be drafted well into the next calendar year.
Peterson said he will also work to “review the final Salt Lake County Dog Park Master Plan to see if our need is being addressed, participate in further discussions on how to protect our foothills and provide appropriate access to the various canyons.”
One specific project concerning trails within the city is the Big Cottonwood Canyon Trail. One section of the trail is still unfinished and has been on the council’s mind this past year.
“We received grants to finish the last portion of the trail,” Bracken said. With the money received by the grants, the city staff has been working on the completion of the trail.
“It’s just the legality of it and getting the rights of way,” Councilman Tee Tyler said. “That’s harder than getting money sometimes.”
The tension between law and money has also been present while discussing the city’s infrastructure. When Cottonwood Heights was incorporated as an independent city, it adopted infrastructure that had previously been Salt Lake County’s. One of the biggest challenges for the city council as a whole is keeping this aging infrastructure mapped and well maintained. Over the past year, a handful of construction projects ran into issues because of unknown piping that had not been previously mapped or otherwise accounted for.
The biggest issue involving the city’s infrastructure is road maintaince, specifically in regards to its cost. “Funding for roads and transportation continues to decline while the costs and needs continue to rise,” Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said. “This will loom as one of the main challenges of the next few years.”
This is not an issue unique to Cottonwood Heights. “I hear it from every city we have in the state,” Tyler said. “We just don’t have enough money for the roads.”
“I think it’s the biggest challenge we face as a city,” Councilman Mike Shelton said. “Everything depends on those roads. It has to be a high priority.”
In an attempt to stay on top of this issue, the council has planned to implement a new strategy next year. “The first step is the completion of a condition pavement index (CPI) study which will give us an objective evaluation of the condition of every road in our city,” Peterson said.
The results of the CPI study will be reported to the council in 2018. “It will allow us to address and prioritize the repair and maintenance of every single road in the city. A key topic of 2018 will be to process that information and put a plan in place,” Bracken said.
Aiding with the process and implementation of the CPI study and road maintaince will be the Cottonwood Heights Public Works Department. 2017 was the first full year the department was in operation. Previously the city had been contracting with a private company for those services.
During 2017, the public works department had many successes, including the first season of snow removal, completion of the public works yard and the implementation of new equipment.
“With the challenges we faced in past years with snow removal and road repairs, the creation of our own public works department was a big change for our city,” Peterson said. “Snow removal was one area of greatest concern for the council going into 2017.”
For the most part, residents recognized the effort made by the council and were fairly pleased. This was reflected in the resident surveys conducted by Y2 Analytics. “The satisfaction with snow removal increased from 44 percent to 64 percent. That was confirmation we had taken major steps forward to solve the public works issues,” Cullimore said.
“Having a successful snow plow season was a huge challenge we successfully took on in 2017, and it was an above average snow incident year,” Bracken said. “I expect we can continue that success going forward. Our new public works yard and equipment has allowed us provide better service to our residents.”
The public works yard was completed during the autumn season of this past year. Now the department mostly stages from this yard, located at the intersection of 3000 E. and Cottonwood Parkway. One of the new additions to the department can be found there as well.
“We have purchased and implemented our own street sweeper,” Tyler said. “We used to sweep the city maybe three times a year, since we were contracting with the county. That wasn’t enough. I am pleased we appropriated the money to make this service our own.”
“The further growth and development of our public works department as it maintains our roads, provides snow removal, etc. will be exciting,” Peterson said. “I’m also excited for the opportunity to review the results of the upcoming pavement condition index study to develop a plan of action for long-term improvements.”
One particular road within the city has presented a mirage of challenges for the public works staff members: Wasatch Boulevard. Over the past year, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) presented a number of construction projects for Wasatch Boulevard and has since completed one. Tensions quickly became heated between city residents, the city council and UDOT.
Many residents have voiced concern for the future of the boulevard. These concerns include congestion, speed limits, ingress and egress from the surrounding neighborhoods, ski traffic and the general feel of the boulevard, within the city.
From resident feedback, Cottonwood Heights urged UDOT and Salt Lake County to conduct a study on Wasatch Boulevard to adequately address the concern.
“The citizen feedback and concern regarding Wasatch is really specific to my district,” Tyler said. “The study that is currently underway will try to examine congestion, safety, environmental impact and ski traffic. I welcome that.”
The study is anticipated to be complete before April next year and will help shape the Wasatch Boulevard Master Plan in 2018.
“It’s really a commuter road,” Tyler said, as he described how many Sandy and Draper residents use Wasatch to commute to and from work in Salt Lake City. “I’m curious to find out how many cars travel on Wasatch daily.”
Another public works related development that will take place during the summer of 2018 is the widening of the Fort Union Boulevard and Highland Drive intersection. There has already been work around the intersection, as Rocky Mountain Power replaces power poles in preparation of the widening roads.
“We have completed the first phase,” Cullimore said. “Next year will be a challenge as we widen that intersection and the access to I-215 to the north.”
“It’s going to be horrendous next summer when that intersection is under construction,” Tyler said.
Over the past few months, the council received many resident comments about the proposed accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance. When it came time for Y2 Analytics to deliver the second resident survey, the council requested questions about ADUs to be included. The results were not what the council had anticipated. Resident opinion was virtually split down the middle.
“I expected the response to be overwhelmingly negative,” Cullimore said. “I was a bit surprised that so many people were either neutral or supportive of ADUs.”
The even split of opinion surprised Councilman Tyler as well. “I don’t like issues that are 50/50. No matter what we decide, half of the people are not going to be happy.”
After reflecting on these results, a few of the council members commented on one of the challenges of being an elected official.
“Sometimes the loud voices don’t represent the majority of opinions. We have to be careful not to overvalue those who are loud as opposed to those who are to the majority opinion,” Shelton said. “This helped me to remember that I represent those who don’t yell loud too.”
Tyler echoed Shelton’s comments. “We need to listen to and respect the majority, not just the vocal minority.”
“This is why we survey,” Shelton said. “We reach out to those who are not loud but their opinions are valued just as much.”
There was one event this past year where the council did not have to ask for resident opinion, because it was readily available. The neighborhood fire over the fourth of July was one of the most devastating events to occur within the city. “I thought for sure we were going to lose several homes. We were extremely fortunate to have a great fire responder response,” Cullimore said.
After the fire, the council received many comments urging for laws to be more strict for the use of fireworks within the city. The council quickly drafted an ordinance that banned aerial fireworks over the July 24th holiday.
“It was a big challenge to accept the responsibility to protect our residents from potential fire hazards by banning aerial fireworks during the 24th of July period. This action was not well received by some state lawmakers, but was something we felt was necessary in the best interest of our residents,” Peterson said.
“There was a supportive public sentiment of our decision that lighting aerial fireworks in such dry conditions as existed over the July 24 holiday was an act of negligence,” Bracken said. “The ensuing publicity had a significant impact throughout the valley. Many other cities took our lead and implemented restrictions to keep firework-caused blazes under control.”
Even though the fire event was the most memorable event this past year, other notable events took place. For Cullimore, one of the most memorable events was the Big Cottonwood Marathon. “It is now the second largest (marathon) in the state, second only to St. George.”
The city hall building continues to be a highlight for Peterson as it continues to be utilized “for gatherings and celebrations of all kinds.”
Butlerville Days is one of the largest city events to date and is a highlight for many of the council members. “I enjoyed sitting with thousands of residents as we watched the amazing fireworks,” Peterson said.
Additionally, the Fort Union Master Plan was approved and the budget surplus continues to build. “That was a significant accomplishment in the face of residents paying less of their income for municipal taxes than any other city in the state,” Cullimore said.
Throughout all the issues listed above, and many more over the past year, the city council generally functions as one cohesive unit to address city business. Sometimes, however, the city council members work individually. Each of the four council members has the opportunity to work closely with a designated organization within the city.
For example, Councilman Peterson works with the historic committee. Over the past year, this committee has been working on a book to be published about the city’s history.
“I’m excited for the book to be published in 2018 regarding our city’s unique history,” Peterson said.
Tyler has been excitedly following the progress of the Cottonwood Heights Business Association (CHBA). This association is still new to the city and continues to grow.
“It’s no cost to our businesses, and it provides opportunities for luncheons, networking and other events,” he said.
One Councilman Bracken’s most rewarding aspects of being an elected official is working with the Youth City Council (YCC). “I helped create and organize the YCC in 2005–2006 on the suggestion of a student who proposed it to the council. I expect I’ll be doing it for as long as I am on the council.”
Throughout the year, the YCC members have opportunities to interact with and learn from elected officials. They hold weekly meetings and participate in many city events, including Butlerville Days, Monster Mash, the Easter Egg Hunt and more.
One of the new events this year was in collaboration with the Cottonwood Heights Police Department (CHPD). The YCC members participated as “actors” in a school-based SWAT scenario drill. “With parental permission, they were able to help train CHPD and others to be better prepared in case of an emergency in a school situation,” Bracken said.
Each year, the YCC members have the opportunity to spend a full weekend immersed in local government at Utah State University. “They get to associate with 400 other high school students from different cities and towns across the state,” Bracken said.
Councilman Shelton meets regularly with the arts council to discuss their events, plays, art shows and other happenings. This past year, one of their most successful events was the production of the play “Annie.”
“The arts council puts in a lot of work to benefit the community and make the city a better place to live,” Shelton said. “They have built a great tradition with the events improving every year. We are very fortunate to have many who are extremely gifted and talented within the city.”
Since most of these organizations within the city are based on volunteer work, they could always use more volunteers. “I hope many residents will take the opportunity to raise their hand and ask if they can help. Often people are shy to volunteer — but, boy, we sure need people who will raise their hand and say ‘I have something I can give, I have some ideas and some time, and I can help,’” Shelton said.
The request for public engagement goes beyond the volunteer committees. The Cottonwood Heights City Council always encourages residents to be involved.
“It’s difficult to legislate, plan and set budgets without understanding the desires, wishes and concerns of those we serve. Hearing from and engaging with constituents is one of the aspects of being a councilman that I’ve enjoyed the most,” Peterson said.
“We have a number of residents who have become regular attendees and participators,” Shelton said. “We have had residents make meaningful comments to a discussion that has changed projects or practices. I hope that those who have been engaged have seen how they have made a difference and would encourage people to be likewise engaged.”
“Our community only gets better when people are involved,” Tyler said. “We want residents to make an effort to be part of the conversation. We live-stream every city council meeting so you can listen to every word we say. We have both the newsletter and this newspaper. They are great avenues to gain information about us.”