Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Provo City Council Work Meeting - October 29, 2013

Community Outreach and Provo Council

Transparency, open government, and civic engagement are popular themes in discussing the relationship between government and the public, but how are those principles expressed by your local government?

Provo is known for its civic connectedness and concern for maintaining good relationships between communities and their local governments, but how does it compare with other cities of similar size?

Below you can see a table which shows how Provo Council stacks up with its peer cities in the inter-mountain region in connectivity and outreach to the public as measured by the following metrics (click to view):

* Provo Council regularly hosts digital town hall meetings to discuss issues with the public in greater detail. Salt Lake City hosts an interactive forum for residents to express themselves on city issues. 
**Note: While many cities on this list do utilize many of the tools listed, those tools are not specifically designed for Council only use, as Provo’s is. To learn more about the various tools mentioned, you may find a list of links for each city here

The Provo Council is moving forward on multiple fronts to engage the public, promote civic participation, and allow two-way communication between the Council and the public on important community and local government issues.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Goodbye Business-license Fees, Hello Good Landlords! - Council Member Hal Miller

In my most recent post to the Municipal Council blog, I raised the issue of business-license fees and asked about the merits of eliminating them (that is, making business licenses complimentary) and charging business owners for regulatory expenses (required for the business license) and nonregulatory expenses instead.  I also urged that municipal government provide subsidy to owners for such expenses at the discretion of an Administration-appointed/Council-approved review board.
Here I raise a related possibility for consideration.  Its purview is the residential rental/lease business, which has a major presence in Provo—from a rented room in an owner-occupied house to leased apartments in a sprawling complex.  The municipal government has a general-welfare interest in assuring that such places of living conduce to the health and safety of those who pay to live in them and those who live near them.  That is the primary reason for its imposition of regulatory and nonregulatory expenses.
Many municipalities use tit-for-tat incentives to motivate those who own residential rental/lease businesses.  One example is a Good Landlord policy.  It offers to discount business-license fees as long as the owner meets municipality-established standards, including safety, health, parking, towing, landscaping, or crime-prevention (such as background checks).  In other words, a Good Landlord policy rewards business owners for maintaining features of their properties that the municipal government values.
Were business licenses to become complimentary, there would be no incentive to reduce the cost of application or renewal.  Instead, it may be possible to provide incentive by a reduction of regulatory expenses or a combination of regulatory and nonregulatory expenses.  For example, the business owner who qualifies as a Good Landlord might receive a discounted cost of health-and-safety inspections as well as the nonregulatory expenses for the emergency services of the police and fire departments.  To do so would require that, first, business owners bear those expenses (they presently do not) and, second, that equitable and transparent standards define the Good Landlord.
The potential benefits that might accrue from the adoption and implementation of such a policy include reduced crime and calls for emergency services.  An additional potential benefit is the amelioration of parking violations (and the affiliated complications of towing) and illegal renters—conditions that continue to vex Provo residents.  The cost of administering a Good Landlord program under the scenario sketched here would fold into the regulatory expenses of doing business—with the real prospect of reducing those expenses by being a Good Landlord.

Hal Miller
Member, Provo City Municipal Council
September 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Improving Provo’s (and Utah’s) Air Quality - Council Member Laura Cabanilla

It’s no secret that over the last several years, a growing concern for the quality of the air in Provo and in Utah has become an issue which resonates strongly with residents and citizens striving to be environmentally aware and health conscious. Provo, together with a few other Utah communities, has found itself ranked high on the list of worst air quality nationally during winter months as reported around the state and country. (Daily Herald article here, Provo Council Blog post here, Salt Lake Tribune article here).

The fact that Utah’s air is not always the cleanest can in some part can be attributed to its unique inversion effect (Read more here).

In this post I would like to 1) review solutions which have been implemented or proposed and 2) explore and promote discussion on what other steps may be taken to ameliorate the situation.

What are some potential solutions which have already been proposed or enacted which can help clean up the air in our communities?

  • Provo has participated in a “Clear the Air” challenge, which the Council has encouraged during meetings with Provo Neighborhood Chairs here. This initiative challenges residents to drive less, and/or drive smarter during winter inversions.
  • In March 2013, KSL reported that some cities along the Wasatch (Salt Lake City, Park City, and Holladay) have adopted ‘No Idling” ordinances to help mitigate poor air quality during winter inversions by encouraging drivers to shut off their cars when possible. This may be a solution that Provo could consider. Read more here.
  • Provo Mayor John Curtis has already instituted a city policy of “no idling” to help promote better air quality during winter months. Read the policy here, and view the mayor’s own thoughts in a post on his blog here.  
  • Utah Governor Herbert has formed a “Utah Clean Air Action Team”, a cooperative group of concerned citizens, businesses, and thinkers who aim to help educate the public about how they may help clean the air. This group focuses on how individual travel, shopping, energy conservation, and ecology each contribute to the state’s air quality. Their site has details here, Deseret News has a good article on the latest developments here.
  • Some groups advocate measures such as allowing free travel on FrontRunner, TRAX or other mass transit services during “red air” days; or enacting ordinances against wood burning during winter inversions.  These may be solutions that Provo could either support or enact.
  • The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has also spoken out about the unique geographic challenges which contribute to Utah’s air quality woes, and has urged congress and the EPA to not take a “cookie cutter” approach to policy for unique Western states which share the particular difficulties associated with this issue. (Department spokesperson as quoted in Deseret News, here)
  • The Provo Council has worked on a Bicycle Master Plan to help the city become more bicycle friendly and less reliant on vehicles, but this is less effective in winter months when more people drive rather than bike. A draft of the Bicycle Master Plan may be found here.
So what are potential solutions for Utah and for Provo? Are any of the proposals, which are either being enacted by other cities in Utah, policies which Provo should follow? How can we take the steps promoted by the Governor’s Utah Clear Air Partnership, and be conscientious consumers of energy and transportation?

What are your thoughts? What can be done to help clean the air? Do you feel the Governors’ solutions are adequate? How can we educate Utahns and Provo residents about how their behavior contributes to air quality? 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Property Acquisition for Provo Westside Connector Moves Forward

As Provo City moves forward with the process to build the Provo Westside Connector road, this includes the acquisition of the necessary property. Some property owners in the affected area do not agree with the current valuation of their property. While acknowledging that the city does have the power of eminent domain, these owners wish to continue negotiations over fair market value.

At Council Meeting on Oct. 1, 2013, the Council agreed to continue negotiations with property owners, but also laid plans to move forward with eminent domain if they are unable to resolve a mutually agreeable solution. Seeking an authorizing resolution for condemnation proceedings, and even filing documents with the courts to seek condemnation of property is very common in this type of situation.  However, it is rare for the courts to actually make the final determination in these matters.  Normally, negotiations continue even after the filing of court documents and the parties eventually reach an agreement regarding valuation.

Deputy City Attorney Brian Jones offered the following explanation of the process the City is going through here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Council discusses increasing savings to the general fund

In the Council’s work meeting on October 1, Provo Director of Administrative Services John Borget updated the Council on new changes to municipal finance law by the state of Utah, and raised the possibility of the city increasing its savings target to match the new allowable limit.

The changes in laws governing municipal funding by the Utah legislature now allow cities to save up to 25% of their general fund; the previous limit permitted general fund savings at a rate of 18%. Provo currently has a general fund target savings range from 12-15%.

Borget indicated that such savings would constitute wise policy both to maintain Provo’s credit rating for bonding, and be fiscally sound in preparing against unforeseen circumstances, such as the recent economic downturn and resulting slow recovery which can quickly deplete savings.

“In our current projections for the Council, we've aimed at 12-15% and we've done that and met those expectations well,” Borget said. “I would recommend that we consider increasing the target rate as a prudent policy, now that the state allows us to save more”.

The Council moved to further continue a policy that saves between 19-25% in coming budget meetings.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Welcome to Digital Town Hall on UTF (Utility Transportation Fund)

Please remember, questions may be submitted by commenting on this post, or via Google +, the Council's Facebook Page: Facebook.com/provocouncil or by Twitter @provocouncil.

In addition, questions may be submitted via email to jpjohnson@provo.org.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Council Digital Town Hall to Discuss UTF

The Council will host a Digital Town Hall Meeting discussing the proposed Utility Transportation Fund (UTF) to fund Provo's roads on Tuesday Oct. 8 from 8-9p on their blog: provocitycouncil.blogspot.com

To Participate via Google +
Residents wishing to participate in the discussion may do so during a live Q&A period, where they may submit and vote for questions from the live stream of the broadcast from their Google + pages. Viewers may vote which questions are important to them by hitting the +1 button beside each question. Questions with the most votes will be answered first.

To Participate via Facebook or Twitter
For those wishing to participate via Facebook and Twitter, questions may be submitted by posting them as comments on the Council's Facebook page at:
  • Facebook.com/provocouncil. 
Questions can also be submitted via Twitter:
  • The Council's Twitter handle is @provocouncil.

Please spread the word about this opportunity to meet and dialogue with your Council Member about this issue.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Council Requires Parking Enforcement Provide, Maintain Proof of Violation

At Council Meeting Tuesday, the Provo Council passed a proposal put forward by Mayor Curtis to require towing and parking enforcement operators to provide time-stamped photographic evidence of a parking violation. This change is the first of several for towing regulations in Provo.

Brian Jones, the deputy city attorney, presented the proposal, and explained the details of how it will affect towing in Provo. 

“Substantively, this ordinance does the following: it makes it a requirement for a towing or parking enforcement operator before connecting to the vehicle or booting the vehicle to document through the use of date and time stamped digital photography or video the nature of the violation,” Jones said. 

Jones also explained that the ordinance will require that towing business will be required to maintain that documentation for at least a year, and make it available to the person towed or to law enforcement upon request. 

Responding to questions from Council Chair Gary Winterton, Jones stated these changes were also inspired by the Mayor’s towing initiative with the goal to improve towing for all parties.

The ordinance also clarifies that lawfully placed boots placed on vehicles may not be tampered or removed, as well as prohibiting the disconnection of a vehicle lawfully connected to a tow truck of a licensed parking enforcement operator. 

What’s your view about these changes? How do you think this requirement for towing operators to maintain documentation of offenses will affect Provo’s towing situation? 

You can leave your thoughts for the Council as a comment on this article, or reach your Council Member directly here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Council Connects With Public at UTF Meetings

Residents present at UTF Meeting Thursday, September 26, 2013
On Thursday, September 26, the Council held a meeting with the public to discuss a proposed Utility Transportation Fund as a permanent long-term way to fund Provo’s roads.

The meeting was held in Council Chambers, and residents were able to hear a presentation from the Council about details of the proposed fund, and also share their views and ask questions.

As mentioned in previous posts, the principles governing the Utility Transportation Fund as agreed upon by the Council and the Mayor include equity/fairness, transparency for payers, and sustainability into the future.

As the Council and Mayor have discussed a comprehensive strategy to fund Provo’s roads, discussions have been held which focus on several issues, such as bonding and funding sources, road longevity, overall costs, and property tax. Those interested in reviewing the details of these discussions can check out the Mayor’s blog detailing these ideas here. The Council has also discussed these ideas here and here.

A Frequently-Asked-Question sheet about the Utility Transportation Fund can be found here.

The next meeting on the Utility Transportation Fund will be held:

Wednesday October 2, 7p in the Council Chambers 351 West Center Street, Provo 84604

A digital Town Hall will also be held online on:

Tuesday Oct. 8, 8-9p Digital Town Hall, hosted at the Council’s Blog,provocitycouncil.blogspot.com

Please invite and inform your friends, family, neighbors and fellow residents of this meeting, and come with your questions and concerns

Utility Transportation Fund from Provo City on Vimeo.