New legislation brings concerns for Cottonwood HeightsMar 30, 2023 11:35AM ● By Cassie Goff
The Utah State Legislature General Session began on Jan. 17 and concluded March 3. For the past two months, Cottonwood Heights lobbyists and leaders have been meeting weekly (on Thursdays at 9 a.m.) to discuss updates to a handful of bills that could have significant impacts to the city.
“Our focus is advocating for the traditional role of local government, recognizing that every city is unique, and that there are not one-size-fits-all solutions,” said Cottonwood Heights City Manager Tim Tingey on Feb. 16.
Capitol Hill Advisors Principal Lobbyist Brian Allen reported that out of the 1,800 bill files opened this year, his team was tracking over 140 bills that could institute high impact for local cities.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the House get to 552 as a numbered bill or the Senate get to 282,” Allen said. “It’s absolutely insane.”
Allen also shared how he believes the Utah State Legislature is moving things through too quickly this year. He’s witnessed controversial bills go through with little to no public comment; and the public comments that have been heard were limited to one minute.
“I’m not happy with the way things are going,” Allen said. “No one in leadership wants their name in the news, especially those that are up for their seats.”
The seven bills predominantly on Cottonwood Heights’ radar this year concerned issues of taxes, trail connectivity, transportation funding, short-term
rentals, event permitting and transparency.
“Our city works really closely with the League (of Cities and Towns) to be able to have conversations around some of the bills that may impact us as our city,” said Cottonwood Heights Councilmember Shawn Newell on Feb. 21.
SB 260: Transportation Funding Requirements sponsored by Sen. Kirk Cullimore and Rep. Val Peterson would allow counties within the state to impose an optional sales and use tax. Counties that elect to implement the increase would raise sales tax by 0.2%. For example, the current sales tax rate in
Salt Lake County is 7.2%. This bill would allow that rate to bump up to 7.4%.
“This bill would add significant revenue dollars to our city,” said Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Weichers on March 2.
City Lobbyist Greg Curtis reported that state leadership wanted to take 0.1% out of that increased sales tax for a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) program to fund transit. The remaining 0.1% would then be distributed to the local cities within the county.
“It’s hard to get an exact pinpoint of what Cottonwood Heights would get, but it may be close to half a million dollars per year,” said Curtis on March 2.
SB 2: New Fiscal Year Supplemental Appropriations Act sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson and Rep. Peterson would provide budget increases to be used by certain state agencies and institutions of higher education. The bill mentions providing over $50,000,000 to provide enhanced bus services, tolling, a mobility hub, and resort bus stops for the Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.
“There were rumors that this would be spent on the (Little Cottonwood Canyon) gondola. UDOT has stated that is not their intention,” Allen said on March 2.
However, Cottonwood Heights Councilmember Ellen Birrell questions if any of this money will go toward expanding Wasatch Boulevard.
SB 185: Transportation Amendments sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper and Rep. Kay Christofferson would create an Active Transportation Investment Fund to be used to improve connectivity between communities with paved trails.
“The vision is connectivity. People can choose to walk or bike without having to battle car traffic,” Curtis said on March 2. This vision is part of Gov. Spencer Cox’s initiative for a state trail network.
The bill would set aside $45 million per year for paved trails and $45 million to jump-start the program ($90 million the first year). This funding would be appropriated to UDOT with rule-making authority to set up a ranking process for proposed projects.
It would then be administered by the Utah Transportation Commission “which means the UDOT staff,” Curtis said on Feb. 16. “UDOT will receive a significant amount of money.”
HB 301: Transportation Tax Amendments sponsored by Rep. Mike Schultz and Sen. Harper would impose a 12% tax on charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs); equating to around $3-$4 per charge. An extra $7 for vehicle registration would be initiated as well.
“EVs are using the roads for free. It’s a way for the state to recoup some money for road funding,” Allen said on Feb. 16.
Councilmember Birrell voiced her opposition to this bill on Feb. 23. “We don’t need to tax the things we want more of.”
HB 291: Short Term Rental Amendments sponsored by Rep. Calvin Musselman and Sen. Cullimore would institute a pilot program to allow for an increase of short-term rental licenses within local cities (no less than 5% of the total residential units within the city).
“(Rep. Musselman) stressed he’s not doing anything that would usurp authority from local government,” Allen said.
HB 329: Event Permit Notification Amendments sponsored by Rep. Jack Colin and Sen. Evan Vickers would require public notice for an event with adult theme(s).
“Cities would be required to rate content for events,” Allen said on March 2. “We have talked to every senator and no one wants to vote yes on that.”
HB 294: Governmental Entity Budget Transparency sponsored by Rep. Nelson Abbott and Sen. Keith Grover would require government entities to disclose population estimates within their budget documents.
“We thought we had killed it,” Allen said on Feb. 23. He recounted how his team had heard from the majority of legislators that they would be voting in opposition. The bill was put on the agenda for early the following morning. Many ended up voting yes. When Allen’s team asked those legislators why they had changed their mind, their response was “Oh! Was it ‘that’ bill?”
Additional bills that caught the attention of Cottonwood Heights were:
SB 75: Sand and Gravel Sales Tax Amendments sponsored by Sen. Scott Sandall and Rep. Bridger Bolinder would distribute local sales and use tax revenue to municipalities with gravel extraction sites within its boundaries. For Cottonwood Heights, there could be a short-term benefit while Granite Construction’s gravel pit (6900 S. Wasatch Blvd.) is still in use. Beyond that, this bill would negatively impact the city.
HB 21: Open and Public Meetings Act Amendments sponsored by Rep. Joel Briscoe and Sen. Jacob Anderegg would require every city meeting to be open and public, including those meetings held by city committees. For Cottonwood Heights, that would include city bodies like the Arts Council and Parks, Trails, and Open Space Committee.
HB 527: Mining Operation Amendments sponsored by Rep. Keven Stratton would constitute a process change for filing or challenging vested rights. It would also shift the process for how the State Office of Mining approves expansion of a mining operation.
HB 374: County Sheriff Amendments sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher and Sen. Daniel McCay would create interlocal agreements between the Sheriff’s Office and Unified Police Department.
HB 499: Homeless Services Amendments sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason and Sen. Anderegg would modify the amount of collected sales tax revenue local governments are required to deposit to the Homeless Shelter Cities Mitigation Restricted Account.
HB 174: Conviction Reduction Amendments sponsored by Rep. Teuscher and Sen. Todd Weiler would modify requirements for reducing the degree of an offense after sentencing.
HB 476: Food Truck Regulations sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland would earmark an income tax for tier-one food trucks.
One day before the general session would come to a close, Allen warned city leaders, “Every bill has the Lazarus effect until the final gavel falls.”