City Council Meeting Dominated by Park Bond Discussion

Donna Barnes | Lehi Free Press

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At the Lehi City Council meeting on October 11, most of the attendees at the meeting were members of the community who wanted to comment on the parks and recreation bond. The citizen input section created the most comment. Mayor Wilson outlined the agenda for the input session which focused on the parks and recreation bond vote in the general election on November 8. Jason Walker, city administrator, gave the city’s view on the importance of passing the bond.

“The general obligation bond came about because of tremendous need. Lehi is a tremendous place to live because of the quality of life. We need to preserve that quality of life by preserving open space and small town feel. We decided to do a general obligation bond because it goes directly to the citizens,” said Walker.

Walker gave additional details about the cost to citizens: $14.06 per month for a home of $280,000 and $25.70 per month for a business or secondary residence. According to Walker, this is an advantageous time to bond because of low interest rates and the cost of construction is lower than anticipated in the future. The fund cannot be used for anything but parks and recreation.

The mayor also presented a prepared statement in favor of the bond. Connor Boyack, a Lehi citizen, was to speak in opposition to the bond but was not present. Cameron Boyle, city assistant administrator, spoke in Boyack’s place.

The rebuttal in favor by Mayor Wilson says, “Lehi City is responsible in its financial dealings. The city has never issued a general obligation bond before. The city has won awards for its fiscal management.”

The rebuttal against the bond, authored by Boyack and read by Boyle says, “Wise voters can read between the lines, there has been mismanagement of city finances. Why reward a city by bailing them out of their irresponsible money management? All we get are hollow promises.”

The public was invited to comment on the presentations. Diedre Clark spoke in opposition to the bond because of the proposed improvements to Willow Creek Park. “The park is not big enough for the proposed improvements. This is a neighborhood park and we do not want the large parking lot the city plans for this park,” she said. Doug Clark also spoke in opposition,  saying, “There is not enough room in the park for the proposed improvements. We like the park just like it is.”

Tyler Bateman spoke in opposition to the park bond: “We do not want an influx of people around our neighborhoods. We don’t want the parks to become ‘hangouts.’ People who move here should have to pay for the additional parks and also the developers should shoulder more of the costs. The city should not have to pay for places for accelerated teams to play. They should not come to Lehi and take up park space.”

Nick Franklin, a longtime Lehi resident, also spoke in opposition. He called for an audit of impact fees. “How have the past administrations used the money? I would like to see an increase in impact fees. Taxes never seem to go away. As property values go up, you get more money each year. Where does it go? We appreciate your service but in this case, you got it wrong!”

Sarah Scoresby is in opposition to the bond because it is too expensive. “I would be willing to vote for a bond that would cost a few dollars more a month, but not the amount the city is asking for,” she said. “I also would be willing to pay to buy more land for parks, but the upgrades to parks are not necessary. I live by Allred Park and it doesn’t need the improvements listed in the bond.”

Matt Hemmert spoke in support of the bond. He said even though he has been called names on social media for his support of the bond, “bonding is a generally accepted way to generate money for a lot of different purposes. As households increase, the tax burden will be lightened.” He sees the bond as an investment, not a burden.

Merrilee Boyack spoke in opposition to the bond stating the amount is not justifiable.

At this point in the meeting, the mayor invited each council member to speak for the bond.

Mike Southwick said, “Citizens determined what projects would be on the bond. We didn’t just come up with those on our own.”

Johnny Revill said, “Impact fees are not used elsewhere. 2.4 million was collected last year in impact fees, but the city spent 5.2 million in parks and improvements. We had to go in the hole to provide what we built.”

Chris Condie read a statement from the Utah Taxpayers Association, a taxpayers’ watchdog group: “Not all debt is bad debt. When building large projects, bonding is good. Because Lehi is the fifth fastest growing city in the U.S, impact fees cannot keep up with growth.”

Paul Hancock said, “When I moved to Lehi I wanted to be involved in the decision making in the city. This is a legacy opportunity for the city. If we don’t do this now there will be an increase in the building costs of parks and facilities. There will be a 9% increase in costs for Peck Park if we wait. We want citizen input and help!”

Paige Albrecht said, “I have been going to city council meetings for five years. The two concerns I hear most are, ‘slow down the growth’ and ‘we need more parks and recreation facilities.’ There are rules in asking developers for more money. Our kids are being denied opportunities. Not all parents can afford to put their kids on accelerated teams.”

Mayor Wilson concluded the discussion. “When I grew up in Lehi we had two parks: Vets and Wines Park. Somebody paid for those parks,” he said. “We turn down hundreds of kids because we don’t have fields for them to play on. As an administration we have looked at this very closely. This is the right time and the right thing for us to do.”

There were eight other resolutions that were passed unanimously, including the nomination of city attorney Ryan Wood and Robert Ranc to the Utah County Nominating Committee for judgeships. Doug Nielson, Lehi city judge, has been appointed to another jurisdiction and Lehi needs to appoint a new judge.

At the conclusion, a Skyridge High School student, Wade Rice, was interviewed. He was attending the city council meeting as part of an assignment from his government and citizenship class. Rice said, “I thought it would be boring, but it was interesting.” When asked if he would hypothetically vote for or against the bond, he said, “At first, I was opposed to the bond, but I would vote for it after hearing tonight’s arguments.”

Pre-Council Meeting: 5:30

In pre-council meeting several items were brought to the attention of the council by Mayor Bert Wilson. Information was presented to the city council about a grant that had been submitted by the city to provide fire protection for the city. The grant will allow consultants to come to the city and look at fire hazards, identify safety needs, and make recommendation for mitigating wildfires. Lehi City has made the first cut and is hoping to receive the grant. Council member Paige Albrecht made the city aware of the grant after attending a conference held in Montana. This grant could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars if we had a wildfire in our area.

Land has been acquired for a new fire station in Traverse Mountain. The city is under budget and has the money to begin building the station. It should be completed by January 1, 2018.

An update was given on the Center Street road improvement. It was mentioned that residents along the Center Street construction zone have been very cooperative in getting the road upgraded and completed.

Land has been acquired for a new power substation and fire station to be located in northwest Lehi.

Jason Walker, Lehi City administrator, told the council the power department is going to six elementary schools to give a presentation to fifth graders about power use. He said kudos should go to Joel Eves and Melanie Hansen for spearheading and organizing this event.

Kim Struthers mentioned the award the planning department has received for the Jordan River Overlay. This was the only award of this type given where the city did not use a consultant. “Mike West did a lot of work of this,” Struthers said.

Other City Council Meeting Minutes: 7:00

Mayor Wilson issued a proclamation announcing that “Lehi City Family Week” would be held November 20-26. He said that “2017 will be the Year of the Family” and activities would be held throughout the year to emphasize the importance of families and how good families make good communities.

Wilson also honored Heather Miller with the Family Proclamation Award. “She is the Ever Ready Bunny. She has done a great job as Family Week chairman. Families are everything,” said Wilson.

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