Yes, It Has Been 10 Years

Yes, It Has Been 10 Years
Posted on 01/05/2015
Kelvyn Cullimore, Jr.

By Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore

At a recent meeting, someone mentioned Cottonwood Heights was a new city. I agreed that statement was relatively true, but when I commented the city was ten years old, everyone acted shocked as though it couldn’t be 10 years already. But indeed it has been. Cottonwood Heights has now been a city for a full decade.

As a member of the Incorporation Committee, I remember well the vote in May, 2004 when citizens voted 85% in favor of incorporating as the 16th city in SL County.

In November 2004 we elected the first Mayor and City Council. I considered it an honor, and still do, that I was elected to lead the start-up of this fine municipality along with four very capable city councilmen, Gordon Thomas, Scott Bracken, Don Antczak, and Bruce Jones. We also had the good fortune of hiring a superb City Manager, Liane Stillman, who had previously served as Mayor of Holladay.

Our vision in creating the city of Cottonwood Heights was to control and limit taxes, improve services, elect local officials who had a vested interest in the community and create a sense of identity. I believe as events have transpired over the last ten years we have essentially accomplished those objectives with a few noticeable failures such as the snow plowing debacle in 2013 which we believe will be corrected for the 2014-15 snow season. When mistakes are made, it is important to learn from them.

The effort to control local taxes has been illustrated by the fact that we have not raised property tax, imposed new taxes, or raised fees in the ten years since incorporation. Despite declining revenue during the recessionary years, good fiscal management has enabled us to maintain strong financial performance as a city. Ultimately we will have to generate new sources of revenue because our revenues have been flat for 10 years while costs have increased. But sound fiscal management has enabled us to hold the line on taxes thus far.

One of the first actions we took as a new city was to run legislation that allowed our area to be disconnected from the Salt Lake Valley Fire Service Area. This was the taxing district set up in 2004 when SL County transferred fire protection services to a service district. By exiting that taxing district and instead contracting back as a member agency of the Unified Fire Authority, we have saved over $12,000,000 in taxes in the last decade without any reduction in fire or emergency medical services.

We started our city contracting with the SL County Sheriff for law enforcement services. We soon became dissatisfied with that model of service. In 2008, we started our own Cottonwood Heights Police Department. While it is arguable that doing so has actually saved money, we are confident that the level of service has increased dramatically. Applying the tax rate of the new Unified Police Department to the city of Cottonwood Heights shows that our current costs are comparable or less than what we would pay if we were part of the UPD taxing district. Our police response times are among the best in the state. Recent statistics show response to priority one 9-1-1 calls to be less than four minutes and responses to priority two and three calls is less than 7 minutes. We have also made a choice to focus on impaired driving enforcement in order to make our roads safer and reduce the incidents of personal injury and property damage resulting in recognition from the state Zero Fatalities program in 2013. Our police department was named the top mid-sized police department in the state of Utah in 2013 by the association of police chiefs. We believe having our own police department provides the best return on tax dollars invested for our citizens.

In 2007, we engaged in the process of creating a new school district. Controversial though it was, it was supported by the majority of school district residents with strong support in Cottonwood Heights. Not only has the formation of Canyons School District resulted in better college and career ready students, but it has been a significant benefit to our community. We have built a strong partnership with Canyons district resulting in an old elementary school being turned into the extremely popular Mountview Park. A new Butler Middle School has been built along with amenities for the high school including tennis courts where the old Cottonwood Heights Elementary stood and a new soccer field being built in front of the new Butler Middle School. Butler Elementary will be rebuilt in the coming year as well. Other schools in the city have been remodeled or upgraded. New and upgraded schools along with enhanced parks have significantly improved attractiveness of Cottonwood Heights for families and thus improved the value of our residential properties.

As a city we have had greater ability to influence development within our community and properly plan for the future. Citizen involvement has been welcome and encouraged. Together with you, our citizens, we have stopped unwelcome development and encouraged appropriate development. While not all development decisions have been pleasing to all parties, there is always opportunity for voices to be heard and to have input into the process. Some thought becoming a city would mean we could arbitrarily determine future land use in our community, but are still bound by law and must respect private property rights. What becoming a city did provide is a forum for voices to be heard, input received and for decisions to be made by local elected officials accountable to the citizenry.

Becoming a city has meant more than just controlling tax burdens and improving service levels. It is about a sense of community, a pride of identity and a sense of place. Since becoming a city we have launched many community events such as the popular Butlerville Days Town Celebration on July 24th each year, our Easter Egg Hunt activity and Bark in the Park. We have developed parks like Golden Hills and Mountview Park. We have established or improved trails such as the Big Cottonwood Canyon Trail or Timberline Trail. We have formed an Arts Council that has promoted artistic events like our annual city play, or our city orchestra. Our Historic Committee is preserving our past. Our Youth City Council has given many of our teenagers the opportunity to learn about municipal government and serve the community. Significant efforts have also been made to establish emergency response and to organize our Neighborhood Watch program.

The construction of our new city hall (to begin this spring) will enable us to establish a sense of permanence and identity when it is completed in 2016.

I have touched only briefly in this article on the efforts of the last ten years to achieve the original objectives of incorporation. Space would not allow me to itemize them all, but we believe the accomplishments of the last ten years have demonstrated that those objectives are being materially achieved. To accomplish all that has been done without any tax increases demonstrates the benefits of being our own city.

Today, Cottonwood Heights is a respected community in SL County and the state of Utah. As a city, we have a voice – not only in local issues, but in County and State issues that affect us. We are a financially and fiscally sound city of informed, involved and impressive residents who care deeply about their community. We are all fortunate to live in such a place.

Happy 10th birthday to us all!