Lucky 13: It Has Been an Honor and Privilege to Serve as Your Mayor

Lucky 13: It Has Been an Honor and Privilege to Serve as Your Mayor
Posted on 12/05/2017

By Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore

For many, the No. 13 has a connotation of bad luck. In my case, it is just the opposite. In a few weeks, my term of service as Mayor of Cottonwood Heights will come to an end. I want to express my appreciation to you, the citizens of Cottonwood Heights, for allowing me the honor to be your Mayor for the last 13 years. It has been a wonderful journey filled with excitement, achievement and challenge. But most importantly, it has allowed me to make many new friends as I have become acquainted with citizens in all parts of this great community. 

It is with some melancholy that I step down as Mayor. The opportunity to be of service to this community has enriched my life and I will miss that. But as a “part-time” Mayor with full-time employment, it was no longer possible for me to dedicate the time required to do both jobs adequately. Besides, I believe our new Mayor, Mike Peterson, will provide excellent leadership. I leave knowing that the city is in exceptional hands.  

As I mark the end of my term as Mayor, I find myself reflecting on the city’s beginning. I had the privilege to serve on the original incorporation committee from 2001 to 2004. That effort, in and of itself, was a substantial undertaking. The idea for incorporation was initially proposed by the late Kit Lindsay, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. On October 31, 2001, the original petition to incorporate Cottonwood Heights was filed and the campaign to collect the required signatures to put the incorporation issue on the ballot was started. The vote for incorporation was held May 4, 2004, with an overwhelming 85 percent voting in favor. At the time, the incorporation committee established four reasons to become our own city. I thought it would be interesting to review each and see how we have done.  

Reason 1 – Better Manage Taxation

This was a major concern because at the time of incorporation, Salt Lake County had raised property taxes on the municipal service fund by 17 percent in 1999 and 40 percent in 2001. Forecasting anticipated the likelihood of further tax increases of 12 percent in 2005, 26 percent in 2006 and 27 percent in 2007. Eventually, those who remained in the unincorporated county ended up experiencing the equivalent of more than 65.5 percent in municipal-related property tax increases (including Unified Police Department and Unified Fire Authority services) since we incorporated, while Cottonwood Heights has not ever raised property taxes. In fact, Utah Taxpayers Association has for the last two years ranked Cottonwood Heights as the second lowest of the 50 largest cities in the state for the percentage of income citizens pay in municipal taxes.   

Shortly after incorporation, we successfully ran legislation to withdraw from the Unified Fire Service Area, a taxing district designed to provide funding to Unified Fire Authority from the unincorporated areas and certain cities. That withdrawal saved Cottonwood Heights’ residents over $26 million in taxes in the last 13 years without any reduction in service.  

At the time we incorporated, virtually every city with a population of more than 5,000 residents assessed an energy use tax (Electricity and Natural Gas). At the time, Cottonwood Heights was the only city in Utah that did not assess that tax, and it wasn’t until October 2015 that we did finally implement the tax, more than 10 years after incorporation. We are still the only city of over 5,000 that does not assess a telecommunications tax. 

Reason 2 – Facilitate Local Control  

At the time of incorporation, we had no elected officials living in Cottonwood Heights other than Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard. Our ability to control what happened in our community was limited. By incorporating, decisions were made by locally elected officials accountable to their constituents.  

Here is a sampling of a few of the issues we have dealt with: stopping proliferation of billboards and setting a standard adopted by many other communities for regulating electronic billboards; regulating short-term ski rentals in residential areas; stopping the Tavaci redevelopment at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon with the help of citizen input; buying property from a developer planning to build three office buildings east of Wasatch Boulevard and instead turning it into a park-and-ride area and open space; facilitating the relocation of residents in the city’s only mobile home park when it was sold by the owners; resolving flooding issues along Dawn Drive; and establishing long-term master plans, just to name a few.  

Not all issues were easy and at times some citizens may have felt they were not being heard. From determining how many snakes a person could have in their basement or the height of tall buildings to operation of the gravel pit and regulating fireworks, we’ve had our share of controversial issues. But regardless of the outcomes, I can attest that all voices were heard, and unarguably, the city has provided a much better forum for those opinions to be expressed.  

Perhaps the most notable example of local control was the effort we led to form the Canyons School District. It could even be said that no other event since incorporation did more to transform our city. It resulted in new schools, better education and park facilities that we now enjoy.  

Reason 3 – Better Manage Services 

As a city, we have the ability to contract for, or self-provide services. Included in those services are Police, Fire, Emergency Medical, Public Works, Animal Control, Code Enforcement, Justice Courts and Engineering. We now self-provide the majority of our services. The worst faux pas of our last 13 years was the hiring of a private company, Terracare, to do Public Works. The establishment in 2016 of our own Public Works Department has corrected that error and will assure our citizens of consistent services, especially snow removal, from dedicated city employees committed to high levels of service. A recent city survey showed citizen satisfaction over snow removal improved from 44 to 64 percent in the past year.  

The establishment of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department in 2008 marked one of the most significant events of the last 13 years. To some it was a controversial decision, but it has proven to be one of the best decisions we have made. Led by Chief Robby Russo, CHPD enjoys one of the highest crime resolution rates in the state, one of the fastest response times and a reputation as an award-winning department. And it costs less than if we were part of the Unified Police taxing district. We have also added code enforcement and animal control as services provided through CHPD.  

Reason 4 – Maintain Integrity of the Community

At the time of incorporation, our area was threatened to be annexed into several adjoining cities. Our incorporation thwarted those efforts. In fact, we have even seen significant annexations into Cottonwood Heights in the last 13 years.  

But maintaining the integrity meant more than just protecting our boundaries. It included establishing a sense of place and a pride of community to allow us to establish our own identity and compete for resources available to other cities. In the last 13 years, we have secured grants and funding in excess of $50 million from county, state, and federal agencies to fund infrastructure and initiatives in our city. These were funds supplemental to our budget.  

We have established a community identity through such activities as Butlerville Days, the Big Cottonwood Canyon Marathon, the city Easter Egg hunt, the Arts Council and its cultural activities, the Historic Committee dedicated to preserving our history and our Youth City Council that provides significant levels of service for city events. And let’s not forget the Thanksgiving Day “Beat the Mayor” 5K! The construction of our new City Hall is a defining landmark for the community and provides an important gathering place. Our parks and trail improvements such as Mountview Park, Golden Hills Park and the Big Cottonwood Canyon Trail have helped establish Cottonwood Heights as a most desirable place to live.  

As I leave office after 13 years, I will take with me many memories. But the most important among them center around people: Those whom I worked with on the incorporation committee to establish this city. Those who have served in elected office and toiled to bring Cottonwood Heights into existence. The pioneers who were the first staff members, led by our first city manager, Liane Stillman, who helped guide us through the challenges of those early days. The subsequent staff who have carried on the banner of excellence led by our current manager, John Park. And the thousands of volunteers who have made this city great.  

I pay tribute to the innumerable citizens, staff and elected officials who have helped make Cottonwood Heights a respected member of the family of municipalities in the state of Utah. What better place to live than the “City Between the Canyons”? May this holiday season bring you all much joy and peace, and may the snowplows come early and often!