Sandy City Council Budget Update

From Council Member Marci Houseman

Recommended Improvements to the Mayor's Tentative Budget

I am a solutions oriented leader. When I encounter challenges or obstructions, I first seek to offer recommended solutions. Shutting down or complaining does nothing to solve the problem.

I have followed this same approach in offering recommended improvements to the Mayor's tentative budget. I recognize that people's lives are busy and there are many responsibilities that take priority over watching our City Council meetings on Tuesday nights. Therefore, I will use this newsletter to outline the recommendations I have or will share with my council colleagues.

One important note - I am 1 of 7. The only way changes will be made to the Mayor's tentative budget is with the vote of at least 4 council members. Likely, we will need 5. A vote of 5 makes the improvements veto proof. Having watched our Mayor in action as a member of the City Council and in her current role, a vetoof any changes to the tentative budget is very likely.

If you agree with any of my recommendations, it will be essential for you to contact the City Council and let my colleagues know. You can do so by sending an email to:

Employee Compensation

As in all industries, retention of employees is critical. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that we are taking care of our employees. During the budget retreat, there was unanimous consensus that we needed to ensure our employee compensation plan is competitive.

In at least two meetings where we have provided feedback to Administration, I have expressed concern over the approach to the employee compensation plan included in the Mayor's tentative budget. Though there was unanimous support for a competitive compensation plan, I believe the compensation plan included in the Mayor's tentative budget goes beyond what we need to do to ensure we are competitive. It seems that we are trying to do "everything at once" to ensure employee retention without pausing to measure the impact of the investments we have already made. I do not support an overhaul in so many areas all at once. I believe it is more fiscally prudent to adjust the compensation plan incrementally and measure the impact of those adjustments before investing further.

The cost of making such comprehensive and sweeping adjustments to the employee compensation plan is a property tax increase. And if all of the adjustments are made at once, how will we know which of the investments had the desired impact on retention? Why not take a more measured approach? I believe we can provide a competitive compensation plan for our employees without adding additional burden to our taxpayers.

Inclusive Playground

The Mayor's tentative budget includes almost 1 million dollars for an inclusive playground. Though I completely support providing a playground that is accessible to all children, I question the timing of this investment. I do not believe it is prudent to set aside this much for a playground when we are working hard to address the capital needs of Alta Canyon Recreation Center.

The Alta Canyon discussions have been going on for years. What is sometimes overlooked in the discussion is the need to provide a safe working environment for our Parks & Recreation Department employees. The votes the City Council have taken up to this point have confirmed the decision to rebuild Alta Canyon and move the Parks & Recreation employees to the new building. What is yet to be determined is the timeline for construction and the funding source. Several members of the council, including myself, are committed to rebuilding Alta Canyon without coming to the taxpayers for the funding.

The funding source for the inclusive playground is park impact fees. Those fees can only be used in specific ways and cannot be moved to the general fund. I have recommended that this money be set aside for Alta Canyon rather than be spent this year on an inclusive playground. It is simply not the right time for the playground. I look forward to investing in an inclusive playground once we have secured the funding that is needed to move our Parks & Recreation employees to a newly built Alta Canyon Recreation Center.

Additional Positions

Aside from the additional 8 firefighters that are needed to maintain an essential staffing ratio for our Fire Department, now is not the time to add new employees. Our budget (with the embedded compensation plan) needs to focus on retaining current employees. Adding new positions means adding ongoing expenses to our budget. The Mayor has indicated that a property tax increase is needed and part of her rationale for the increase is the funding for additional FTE (Full Time Equivalent) positions.

Here are the additional positions being proposed by the Mayor:

  • Additional part time assistant in the Mayor's office (Bi-weekly Salary Range of $1,898.40 - $2,848) - this position is in addition to the full time executive assistant that supports the Mayor and the CAO
  • Emergency Management Coordinator (Bi-weekly Salary Range of $1,975.20 - $2,963.20)
  • Animal Services Officer (Bi-weekly Salary Range of $2,001.60 - $2,535.20)
  • Marketing & Development Specialist for Parks & Recreation (Bi-weekly Salary Range of $2,085.60 - $3,128.80)
  • 8 Firefighters (various pay ranges depending on internal promotions/lateral hires)

As I have said many times, the members of our community are suffering under the burden of inflation and unchecked spending by the federal government. Sandy City recently approved a necessary water rate increase that was long overdue. I am not comfortable raising taxes to fund additional positions right now. Let's follow through on the commitment we made to address the staffing in our Fire Department and take care of our current employees. Adding new positions to our employee count is not fiscally prudent at this time.

Fire Station #31

The City Council passed a resolution to come to voters via the November ballot and ask you to support a general obligation bond that funds the construction of Fire Station #31. The Mayor's tentative budget ignores the direction provided by the City Council and instead includes bonding to fund the construction of the fire station. This type of bonding does not require public approval.

I recommend removing this component of the budget and following through on the City Council's plan to ask the public to vote on a tax increase that will focus entirely on Fire Station #31. The revenue generated by this type of bond would only be able to be used for the construction of Fire Station #31. Once the bond is paid off, the taxing ends.

The Mayor's proposed property tax increase will generate funding that can be used for any purpose because the funds become part of the general fund. Additionally, unless a future City Council votes to reduce the property tax, the taxing continues into perpetuity. I am not comfortable with that approach to funding the construction of Fire Station #31.

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Miscellaneous Expenses

The final recommendations I will share are what I call miscellaneous expenses. These are expenses the Mayor has included that I don't believe are necessary right now. You will find them in various places in the budget but I am simplifying by lumping them together here and calling them miscellaneous. Though I see the value of many of them, now is not the time to increase the amount we are spending. For me, the priority needs to be funding a modified compensation plan without a property tax increase. All other lower priority expenses need to be stripped away to make this happen. These are my recommendations:

  • Maintain current level of funding for the 4th of July ($127,900) rather than increasing it by $10,000
  • No additional expense for Christmas lights - the Mayor has added $10,000 to the budget for more lights
  • Maintain current level of funding for celebrating Historic Sandy via the Heritage Festival ($13,000) rather than adding an additional celebration in Historic Sandy which would cost an additional $10,000
  • Maintain current level of funding for the Balloon Festival ($40,000) rather than increasing it by $20,000
  • Maintain current level of funding for "On Call" pay for the Streets department ($10,704) rather than increasing it by $7,000
  • Maintain current level of funding for "On Call" pay in the Transportation department ($5,500) rather than increasing it by $4,000
  • Maintain current level of funding for "On Call" pay in the City Cleanup department ($4,587) rather than increasing it by $3,000
  • Maintain current level of funding for "On Call" pay in the Fleet department ($5,550) rather than increasing it by $5,000
  • Maintain current level of funding for postcard printing in the Public Works department ($8,000) rather than increasing it by $8,000
  • Reduce proposed funding for new police vehicles from $1,200,000 to $800,000
  • Delay structural pay plan changes for the Fire Department until FY 2025 - saving $500,000.
  • Maintain current level of funding for Park Strips/Median Conversion ($55,796) rather than increasing it by $200,000

The savings above total $1,177,000. As pictured below, the net increase for the proposed compensation plan (outside of the structural pay plan changes noted above) is $950,000. The reductions I list above cover the net increase without raising property taxes.

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Management Studies

In my last newsletter, I highlighted my efforts to create a policy for implementing Management Studies for each of our departments. During our meeting on Tuesday night, the council adopted the policy by a 6-1 vote. Council Member Ryan Meacham (District 1) was the only no vote. I appreciate the support of my council colleagues in adopting this important policy. You can watch our deliberations here. In a year where the Mayor has proposed a 32% property tax increase, passing this new policy was essential.

Here are the notes I prepared and referenced when presenting my proposal to my council colleagues:

1. Our community deserves to see its local government chasing continuous improvement. Local government impacts residents very directly. The more we model best practices in fiscal oversight, the more trust we build within our community. We continually have "outside eyes" conduct financial audits with glowing results. I am so grateful for everything our teams do to contribute to that important process. Similarly, there is value in having "outside eyes" take a look at our use of resources and staff. As a consultant, I provide "outside eyes" to leadership teams in education. I help them celebrate what is working and improve what is not. I help them discover opportunities they may not have identified on their own. I am confident that our community will appreciate our efforts to have "outside eyes" partner with us in discovering efficiencies that are working as well as opportunities to improve.

2. Our department heads work hard to oversee their budgets and advocate for departmental needs. They collect and analyze data to determine priorities. They define action plans for addressing those priorities. And yet, they potentially feel like they are alone in their advocacy. "Outside eyes" can provide additional data that reinforces the identified priorities. As future budgets are deliberated, a triangulation of internal and external data will give our department heads clear and compelling reasoning to support them in their advocacy. A recurring approach to management studies will set in motion a reliable partnership that will set department heads up for success as they prepare their budgets.

I want to thank Dustin and Justin for their support with this proposal. In our meetings with Ogden City, we learned a great deal about their effective approach to management studies. We learned of the value they bring to department heads during the budget process. And we learned of their willingness to share their insights with us as we consider implementing the best practice of reoccurring management studies. Dustin has offered to set up meetings with Ogden should anyone be interested in hearing first hand about their experience and the positive impact management studies have had.

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If you made it all the way to the end of this lengthy newsletter, I thank you for your perseverance! This newsletter includes a great deal of information so I imagine it took you some time to get to this point in my newsletter. Thank you for your engagement. Thank you for your efforts to be well informed during at such a critical time. And thank you in advance for the recommendations and insights you will share with the City Council.

Whether you agree with all of my recommendations or not, we need to hear from you. Your voice matters! Please take the time to review the Mayor's tentative budget here. Or watch the recording of the meeting where the tentative budget was presented. You can find that recording here.

The City Council will be discussing amendments to the tentative budget over the next several weeks. We are currently scheduled to vote on a final budget during the June 20th meeting. Please be sure to share your thoughts between now and then. Thank you!

"Government does not have an unlimited claim to our income." --Mayor Trent Staggs

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I welcome your feedback, ideas and conversation. Please reach out!
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