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Jenney Rees for Cedar Hills Mayor

The General Election will be Tuesday, November 7, 2017. I have been honored to serve on the City Council since 2012 and hope to earn your vote to serve as Mayor. The following are areas on which I would like to focus.

Communication

With social media and technological advances, it is easier than ever to communicate with each other. Since I was elected in 2011 I have made it my goal to engage with residents through a variety of formats. I post my notes to my blog after each Council meeting, I engage with residents on Facebook forums, and I am always willing to sit down and meet with anyone who would like to discuss the issues facing our city. Additionally, I have consistently provided messages through the city newsletter, I helped create the city’s social media sites, and I created and have written many of the annual State of the City reports. My commitment as Mayor is to continue these communication efforts, explore new ones, and to be accessible to residents, day or night, to address concerns.

Fiscal Responsibility

Since 2012 I have worked together with staff and officials to reduce our debt burden while continuing to provide the services our residents want and need. These efforts include refinancing the golf course bond with a lower interest rate of 2.47%, which equates to a total savings of almost $500,000 over the life of the loan; refinancing Utility Revenue Bonds, which resulted in a total savings of approximately $638,000; and paying off the Public Safety Building almost seven years early. All money that the city receives and expends belongs to the residents of Cedar Hills and, as such, should be allocated judiciously. As Mayor, I will continue to work with staff and the City Council to make wise financial decisions that benefit our city and our residents.

Community

Through the years, we have done a series of surveys to determine what residents love most about Cedar Hills. Overwhelmingly, it comes down to those things that give Cedar Hills that small, hometown feel. Open space, access to American Fork Canyon, youth recreation, and community events top the list of things to love about our city. While serving on the City Council, I have continually advocated to preserve our open spaces and to provide opportunities for residents to utilize our recreation and community resources. As Mayor I will work with the Council to promote community by continuing with our services and traditions while exploring new opportunities to bring our city together.

Planning

Across the state, cities are struggling to maintain infrastructure while providing services. Through careful planning and budgeting, our team has worked together to avoid many of the issues other cities are facing. Working together with staff, I am committed to following a long-term maintenance and replacement plan for our streets and utilities with the goal to follow a pay-as-you-go model instead of bonding for expensive projects.

With regards to our commercial area, I will advocate for businesses that adhere to our General Plan and the stated intent of our commercial zone. While our commercial area is small, it was created with the intent to provide an area where the primary use is for commercial businesses that serve the needs of the community and surrounding areas.

We are currently in the process of creating a Parks and Trails Master Plan to ensure that residents have access to outdoor recreation and play areas throughout the community. I will continue to place a high priority on our open spaces as they enhance the quality of life in our community and beautify our neighborhoods.

Service

A desire to serve is essential when running for office. My service to our community includes serving on the City Council since 2012, serving as the volunteer coordinator for the Family Festival, volunteering at numerous Family Festival events, helping with city service projects, and serving as a volunteer for the Victim’s Advocate department with American Fork Police. Input from residents is valuable and I will encourage utilizing resident-driven committees to explore issues and opportunities facing our city. I enjoy serving with others throughout the community as we work together to make Cedar Hills a great place to live and, as Mayor, I will continue with these efforts and others that come with a new role.

PI Metering

There have been multiple discussions on the pros and cons of metering our pressurized irrigation water. The primary arguments for metering center on reducing wasteful consumption and reducing the wear and tear on our system. I am not yet convinced that secondary metering is the right solution for these problems and would instead like to educate and encourage residents to invest in smart controllers for their sprinkler systems. Smart controllers work by developing watering cycles based on an individual yard and weather patterns, and have proven to reduce consumption without the need for meters and changes in billing. There are a few reasons I’m advocating this approach.

First, secondary water meters don’t always result in conservation, especially if you have a group of people who can afford it. From a Standard-Examiner article from 2015:

O’Loughlin with Brilliant Integrated Technologies has noticed himself how different homeowners have different motivations to conserve. His work promoting the new irrigation controller often takes him back to California. The state is facing a tougher drought crisis than Utah, and pay water rates around 74 percent higher, but overwatering hasn’t gone away there, either. Just last summer, water use in the parched state increased by 1 percent instead of going down by their targeted 20 percent. California policymakers passed a $500-a-day fine for overwatering to try to curb use. “No matter where you go, water is not that expensive compared to what you’re putting it on; it’s noise for some people compared to the investment in landscaping and what the house is worth,” he said.

I’ve heard that Spanish Fork has implemented secondary meters and has seen a reduction in usage. However, our demographics are different from those of Spanish Fork. In Spanish Fork, the average annual income is $68,767 and the average home value is $214,014. In Cedar Hills the average annual income is $97,693 and the average home value is $343,377. (city-data.com). In an area like ours, many users can afford the higher rates so metering won’t necessarily equate to conservation.

Second, studies have shown that educating users on consumption has helped reduce usage. The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District installed water meters in Ogden, however, they did not change how they bill. They provided watering stats to residents who had meters and found that, without changes in billing, consumption went down. From that Standard-Examiner article:

Joanna Endter-Wada, a professor in the Department of Environment and Society at Utah State University, helped the water district use the data to gain a wider social perspective of conservation, too. 

“Our interest was in trying to assess the effectiveness of the information itself,” she said. “Could people be compelled or encouraged to conserve, just knowing whether or not water they were using was sufficient to meet their needs?” 

The answer, it seems, is a resounding “yes.”

The district has only kept track for the past three years, and they’re still finalizing the 2014 data. But preliminary estimates from the meters show the average household in Weber County used 83 percent of their one acre-foot water allocation in 2012. By 2014, that figure dropped to 60 percent.

The data also shows that the amount of people exceeding their water use allocation — another way of saying “overwatering” — dropped from 26 percent in 2012 to 9 percent in 2013.

“How much water costs is one motivation, but people, in general, have values related to not being wasteful, using their fair share and being reasonable in the amount of water they’re using in comparison to others,” Endter-Wada said. “So if people become aware of the fact that their use is considered inefficient, or they’re using a lot more water than they really need, many of them are motivated to conserve by doing right as members of society.”

Also, from a 2016 Standard-Examiner article:

Tage Flint, general manager and CEO at Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, stresses that education has always been the key to conserving water. “What we’re finding is that the more educated the water user is, the more efficient they are in their water usage,” he said.
Flint says new technologies are helping to boost water conservation. For example, when a homeowner installs a smart controller, it generally makes an immediate difference.
“What we’re seeing is that, almost overnight, we’re getting a 30- to 200-percent reduction in water use,” Flint said.
Kelly Kopp, a professor of plants, soils and climate at Utah State University, in Logan, has been focusing much of her research on these new controllers.
“I do think that the future of irrigation is going to focus on technology,” Kopp says. “And smart irrigation controllers are a big part of that, with huge potential water savings.”
Britney Hunter, an extension assistant professor in horticulture at the Davis County USU Extension Service, says she’s “pleasantly surprised” at how affordable these smart timers are, and just what the technology is capable of. Indeed, Hunter said if everyone in Davis County replaced their irrigation timer with a smart controller, the average home would save 8,800 gallons of water annually. Nationwide, that could translate into a savings of 120 billion gallons.

In researching this, I’m finding places like California are now installing smart controllers on top of water meters because the meters weren’t enough. However, technology continues to advance and smart meters are being developed that do both. I’m concerned that if we do meters now but the state eventually feels smart controllers are more effective, we will need to upgrade once again.

Third, the more I study the conservation issue, the more strongly I feel this needs to be led by the state and not individual cities. Our wells draw from aquifers, and other cities draw from the same aquifers. If we are conserving but other cities are not, then our efforts will not have any meaningful impact. Lehi is a great example. They continue to drill down deeper to supply more water to their rapidly growing community. If we scale back but they continue to draw down the aquifer, we will still suffer. This isn’t to say that we should ignore conservation efforts. This is an important issue and we should all do our part. But if conservation of a resource is key, then it’s only going to work if everyone is participating.

Fourth, the wear and tear on our system is a concern, but I’m not certain metering will fix it. If we don’t see a reduction in use, then meters would not have solved that problem. We have had Bowen & Collins do a study on our water, sewer, storm drain, and PI system and they recommended rates based on ongoing operations and improvements. They have continued to state we do not need to raise PI rates. If our system isn’t going to last as long as anticipated, we could instead raise PI rates to plan for improvements more often than the current plan. I am interested in Bowen & Collins explaining why their recommendations haven’t changed based on usage, and if they did recommend a rate change to address wear and tear, how much that would be. It could be considerably less expensive than meters.

Fifth, on the subject of paying for what you use. This is a market principle that makes sense to me. However, we used to do exactly that when we used culinary water on our lawns. At some point the city recommended a PI system where residents would only be charged a flat rate. It turns out whoever did that study didn’t take into account that supplying an unlimited amount of something for a flat fee would increase usage. To now go back to residents and say that isn’t working doesn’t seem fair, and I’m sure that is why so many residents are opposed to water meters. I would like to explore other options to reduce consumption and use metering as a last resort.

In summary, I recommend that we increase education efforts, which may even require us to get some outside help for a season. I would like the city to emphasize the benefits of smart controllers and encourage residents to obtain one. Controllers range from $100-$300 and several water conservancy districts are offering rebates of half the cost up to $150 to install and approved device. In addition, the city could explore offering a rebate for those who show proof of installation of an approved device. We should also eliminate watering restriction days for those who use smart controllers as they system will be setup to only water when needed. I feel that residents would conserve if they had tools that made it easy to do so, and were aware of how much water was being used. It’s not unlike recycling. Many residents pay each month for a recycling bin without any financial incentive to do so, but because they feel strongly about conservation. With more education and improvements in technology, I think this is the direction that makes the most sense. I think we need to do more research on the options and talk with someone at the State level to see what research and plans are happening there. I would hate for us to go down a road that doesn’t resolve the issues, or that has to change in the near future as technology and awareness changes. We made the mistake of thinking that a flat fee PI billing structure would be fine, and are now realizing that assumption was incorrect.

Running for Mayor

I am excited to announce that I will be running for mayor this year. I have loved serving the residents of Cedar Hills in my capacity as a council member and hope to earn your vote to serve as mayor. I will post more information here over the next couple of months as campaign season starts, but feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions or feedback.

Jenney Rees
801-358-8730
jenneyrees@gmail.com

Watering Season Is Almost Here

Spring is right around the corner, which means our pressurized irrigation system will soon be energized. We’ve had a great winter with regards to water, but conservation of water should still be on our minds. There are a few things you can do that can help with conservation:

  1. Contact USU for a free water check. A Water Check analyzes the efficiency of your automated sprinkler irrigation system. Trained evaluators will perform the Water Check at your home, business, or institution and will provide you with a customized irrigation schedule.  Soil type, grass root depth, sprinkler distribution uniformity and water pressure will be evaluated. The entire process will take approximately one hour. Contact information can be found online at http://slowtheflow.org/index.php/forms/free-water-check
  2. Install a smart controller. These controllers use weather and landscape conditions, along with information regarding your yard, to customize a watering schedule based upon the needs of your lawn. Many of these controllers allow you to control your system from your smartphone, which allows you to have complete control of your watering schedule wherever you are. Currently the Central Utah Water Conservancy District is offering rebates up to $150 for the purchase of a smart controller. Applying for the rebate can be done online at http://rebates.cuwcd.com/. Skydrop, which is located in Utah, presented their controller to our Council last year and sell them for approximately $200. You can find more information about their product at https://www.skydrop.com/.

Cities all around Utah are considering metering PI water as a way to reduce water consumption. My hope is that we can improve our water consumption without requiring meters. Having the free water check and installing smart controllers can help each of us reduce our water intake while still maintaining the lawns and gardens we love.

Domestic Violence Meeting

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In the past few months there were two cases of domestic violence related homicides that occurred in American Fork. These tragedies were horrific and leave many wondering what can be done to better protect victims of domestic violence. We view our area as safe and family-friendly, but the statistics show that domestic violence is more prevalent in Utah than we may realize. The Utah Department of Health has published the following data on their website:

  • From 2000-2011, there were 226 domestic violence-related homicides in Utah, averaging 19 deaths per year,
  • In 2012, more than 3,114 men, women, and children entered shelters to escape domestic violence.
  • In 2008, 14.2% of Utah women (ages 18 and older) reported that an intimate partner had ever hit, slapped, pushed, kicked, or hurt them in any way.
  • In Utah, women experienced 169,156 intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes each year.
  • Nationally, each year, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner related physical assaults and rapes.
  • The percentage of women in Utah who reported ever experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) increased with age, with the exception of women who were 65 years or older.
  • 39% of Utah women reporting IPV said the perpetrator was their husband or male live-in partner. 27% said the perpetrator was a former husband or former male live-in partner and 25.7% said the abuser was a former boyfriend.
  • In Utah, divorce or separated women report the highest percentage of IPV (42.1%).
  • Nationally, the estimated costs of IPV exceed $5.8 billion each year. This includes costs of medical care, mental health services, and lost productivity.
  • There is approximately one intimate partner-related homicide every 33 days in Utah.
  • 44% of intimate partner-related homicide victims were killed by a spouse.
  • 147 Utah children were directly exposed to an intimate partner-related homicide from 2003-2008 and 78% of these children were under six years of age.
  • There is approximately one domestic violence-related homicide each month in Utah.
  • One-third of domestic violence perpetrators committed suicide after committing the homicide.
  • There are approximately 3 domestic violence-related suicides every month in Utah.
  • Almost 12% of adult suicides are domestic violent related.

According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribute, Jenn Oxborrow of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition said domestic violence-related homicides in Utah have accounted for 42 percent of homicides statewide over the last 16 years.

There does appear to be some movement on finding ways to better help those who are victims of domestic violence. Two bills are being presented this legislative session that deal with domestic violence. The Utah County Commissioners recently held a townhall asking for input from the public on domestic violence resources in Utah County. These are a step in the right direction, but there is a lot more that needs to be done.

American Fork Police Department is committed to raising awareness to domestic violence issues in our communities. On March 8th at 7pm in the Vista Room, victim advocate Dawna Whiting and Sergeant Josh Christensen will discuss domestic violence and what resources are available to residents of Cedar Hills. I encourage residents to attend this important meeting to become more aware of this issue and to offer suggestions and thoughts on what communities, counties, and states can do to end the cycle of violence.

Upcoming Meetings

There are two upcoming meetings that residents are invited to attend that could have a significant impact on the budget and future of the city. I will provide a summary on this blog after each meeting and welcome any feedback you have.

The first is a meeting being held by the Lone Peak Public Safety District on Tuesday, January 31st at 6pm at the Highland Fire Station. LPPSD recently had a metric study performed on services provided and will be presenting the results of that study. One thing that has been a concern for representatives of Cedar Hills, Highland, and Alpine is the continued rise of public safety costs and how to budget for them. The results of this study and decisions made by the board could have a big impact on our public safety budget.

The second is a Board of Adjustment hearing on February 8th at 6pm in the Cedar Hills Vista Room. This is an appeal being requested by Rosegate, the developer who wants to build a residential facility in the commercial zone located south of WalMart. The Council previously approved the application with several conditions to make it comply with zoning regulations and with the ruling that congregate care could be considered substantially the same as assisted living. The developers are appealing the decision of the Council and both sides will argue before the Board of Adjustment. This is the first level of the appeal as it will also be heard by the State Property Rights Ombudsman and could also end up in court. The public is welcome to attend the hearing.

Canyon Road

A discussion regarding the future of Canyon Road has been ongoing for several years. Here is a brief recap:

  • The County wanted to make improvements to North County Blvd, which was owned by Pleasant Grove, American Fork, and Highland, and wanted federal dollars to make the improvements. In order to get federal dollars, the ownership of the road had to be transferred to the State. Through an agreement made between UDOT and Utah County, a trade was made after North County Blvd was completed. UDOT, which owned Canyon Road, agreed to take ownership of North County Blvd and the County agreed to take ownership of Canyon Road. Canyon Road maintained its classification as a “Minor Arterial and Major Collector” road.
  • UDOT gave to the County the funds they had set aside to do an overlay on Canyon Road, which was $3.3 million.
  • Cedar Hills and Pleasant Grove approached Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG) and requested additional funding to make significant improvements to Canyon Road, including fixing drainage issues and installing curb and gutter. This was approved for $4.5 million. The County agreed to allocate an additional $1.5 million to the project. I’m not clear as to where those funds came from as I’ve heard they are federal funds the County received as part of the transfer agreement of North County Blvd. With all the funding available, there was a total of $9.3 million to improve Canyon Road.
  • The County approached both cities and stated they are willing to use all of those funds to make improvements but only if the cities agree to take ownership of the road in 30 years and immediately take responsibility for pothole repair and maintenance, snow removal, law enforcement, storm drainage, signage, debris removal, and some road striping. Our city manager estimated the cost for us would be $15,000-$20,000 per year from year one. The ongoing maintenance after the transfer of ownership would be much higher as we will then be responsible for all major road repairs, resulting in millions of dollars to be expended.
  • The County originally indicated that if we refused to take ownership, they would reject the MAG funds ($4.5 million) and just do an overlay.
  • In a recent Council meeting we discussed our concerns with the agreement, including but not limited to our $15-$20k annual responsibility from day one, the ability for the County to give 6 months’ notice to terminate the agreement before the 30 year transfer of ownership (though they do have to give us money to maintain the road at their levels for the entire 30 year contract), that the agreement didn’t fix all the drainage issues nor install curb and gutter on the entire road through our portion, concerns with our ability to handle snow plowing immediately, and the eventual ownership and costs. While the improvements being proposed are significant, they do not raise the quality of Canyon Road to city standards.

At our request, we had a joint meeting with the Pleasant Grove City Council on November 22, 2016. This was an opportunity to hear where Pleasant Grove was with the agreement and to express our concerns. Also in attendance were Utah County Commissioners Bill Lee and Larry Ellertson, Commissioner-elect Nathan Ivie, Utah County Public Works Director Richard Nielson, Andrew Jackson with MAG, and many city staff members from both cities. At that meeting members of the Cedar Hills Council expressed concerns with the safety of Canyon Road and the agreement.

The major points that I brought up were 1) Cedar Hills isn’t in a position to expend $15-$20k per year to maintain a County Road, 2) our city is almost completely built out so our ability to own a road of that size and scope, even in 30 years, is limited as the cost will be in the millions of dollars, 3) while the County feels that County standards are less than those of a city with regards to roads, the improvements being suggested do not raise the quality of the road to city standards, 4) the improvements being recommended do not address all of the safety issues, 5) if the project exceeds the $9.3 million budget, the cities have the pay the balance, and 6) the County made this agreement with UDOT knowing it was not a rural road and had significant safety issues that should have been addressed some time ago.

My initial hope was that PG and Cedar Hills could work together and reject the agreement, ask the County to use the $9.3 available to them to fix the road and address the safety issues of the road they own, then later meet together with the County to discuss the future of the road. It was apparent at the end of the meeting that the majority of the PG City Council is willing to sign an agreement with the County to repair their portion and take on ownership in the future. It’s possible they have the ability to do so as they no longer have to maintain their previously owned portion of North County Blvd, but I do not know the details of their budget. I suggested to the County that we look at a separate agreement for Cedar Hills thatmakes sense for us. Our city is smaller than PG (CH population = 10,265, PG population = 38,052), our budgeted revenues are less (for fiscal year 2017 CH = $4,084,654, PG = $13,928,006), PG turned over ownership for their portion of North County Blvd where we are keeping all of the streets we’ve been responsible for, and PG has more staff and more resources to handle a road the size of Canyon Road. While the agreement as written may make sense for PG, it doesn’t make sense for a city of our size. At the same time, the road needs to be fixed and the County, as the owner of the road, should address issues for the safety of everyone who drives on Canyon Road.

After the meeting was over I spoke with one of the County Commissioners and am cautiously optimistic that something canbe done that addresses the issues without hurting our city. I will continue to post updates as more conversations take place.

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