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Utah County Commission approves putting mayor-council form of government question to voters

The Utah County Commission approved Tuesday a resolution to let voters decide in November whether the county should adopt a mayor-city council form of government.

In its public meeting, the commission voted 2-1 in favor of the resolution that, if passed on Nov. 3, would change the county’s form of government from a three-member commission elected at-large to a five-member, part-time city council elected in geographic districts and a full-time county mayor elected at-large.

The decision to pass the resolution comes after a year of debate whether the commission form of government is problematic since, under this style of leadership, there is no separation of executive and legislative duties.

It also comes a day after a citizen petition, led by Commissioner Bill Lee, to leave to voters the question of whether to expand the commission to five members appeared to fail to get enough signatures, according to an unofficial count from the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office.

Commissioners Nathan Ivie and Tanner Ainge voted in favor of Tuesday’s resolution while Lee voted against it.

“I would like to see this move forward to see if the voters approve of this,” Ivie said, adding that his support stems from “this concept of a separation of duties, responsibilities and powers that were inherent with … creating a distinctive executive and legislative body.”

“I obviously have a different opinion,” said Lee, who called the mayor-council proposal an expansion of government.

“There is a real reluctance for growing government,” Lee said. “And to go to a mayor-council form is going to be a tough sell, I think, across the county.”

Lee added that he felt consolidating executive powers from three commissioners to one mayor would be a detriment to the county.

“With that, I will be voting ‘no’ on this,” Lee said.

Last May, the Utah County Good Governance Advisory Board, which the commission established to research the question of whether to change forms of government, recommended that the county transition to a full-time mayor and seven member part-time council.

The commission had planned to vote whether to put this question on the November 2019 ballot. That vote never took place because of the petition filed at the last minute by Lee, which prevented the commission from making a decision one way or another.

The executive-council form of government proposal that residents will vote on in November would create a full-time county mayor position with a $120,000 annual salary, as well as a deputy mayor position with an $80,000 salary, according to the proposal.

Each part-time council member would be paid an annual stipend of $20,000 and would not receive standard employment benefits offered to other county employees and officials. Additionally, a council assistant would be hired and paid a salary of $65,000.

Ivie said the proposal would cut spending on county government by 34%.

Council members would be elected in five geographic districts. District 1 would cover west Utah County while Districts 2 and 5 would cover north and south county, respectively. District 3 would be made up of central Utah County cities with the exception of Provo, which would be in District 4.

If the proposal passes in November, a mayor and county council would be elected during the 2022 general election and take office on Jan. 2, 2023.

In an interview, Ivie said he supported the proposal because “it empowers the legislative body” and “guarantees local representation in the county.”

“It now moves into the hands of the public,” said Ivie.

Tourism tax advisory board wants to focus on outdoor experiences, music festivals in Utah County

All public things fun in Utah County, from Provo’s Freedom Festival to city parks and golf courses, are funded by tax dollars allotted by the Utah County Commission. The board that advises the commission on how to spend these funds, the Utah County Tourism Tax Advisory Board, met on Monday to discuss its goals for the new year and decide which projects in the county should take priority.

The six-member board advises the Utah County Commission on how to spend funding from two tax revenues, the Tourism, Recreation, Culture and Convention (TRCC) tax fund that is collected from money spent at restaurants and the Transient Room Tax (TRT) that is paid on hotel stays.

The board, which is made up of hotel and business owners throughout the county, met for the first time this year on Monday at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Provo. As a whole, the board agreed that its focus for the year should be on four categories: Destination experiences that incentivize tourism, natural experiences that highlight the beauty of Utah County, event experiences like festivals and concerts and cultural and educational experiences that benefit youth in the county.

John Garfield, general manager of the Provo Marriott and chair of the advisory board, talked about its funding priorities for 2020 and how tax dollars could be best spent to enhance entertainment and recreation in the county. Topping the list of funding priorities were Bridal Veil Falls, the Utah County Fair and the Springville Museum of Art.

The board recommended Bridal Veil Falls and the county fair be given $925,000 and $250,000, respectively, and that the art museum be given $28,125 to fund a spiritual and religious exhibition.

In total, there are 26 projects in the county for which tourism tax funding has been requested, according to the board’s priority funding list. These requests include the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds, the Utah County Art Board, Provo City Airport and bond payments for Thanksgiving Point and the Utah County Convention Center.

Requested TRCC expenditures for the year total $39.1 million.

The county expects to get $11.3 million in revenue from the TRCC tax this year, according to Ezra Nair, who is County Commissioner Tanner Ainge’s policy advisor and serves as the commission’s contact to the advisory board. Additionally, the county has $18.9 million in reserves for TRCC-funded projects.

Revenues from the restaurant tax increased $760,000 between 2019 and 2020, according to the county’s budget report.

As far as TRT requests, the board recommended $1.7 million go to Explore Utah Valley and $111,375 go toward Provo’s Freedom Festival.

Board member Danny Wheeler, who is the general manager of the Utah Valley Convention Center, said the county should focus on projects that draw tourists but also benefit locals. One example he gave of money well spent was on the Provo Airport, which the commission gave $4.3 million of TRCC funds last year for an expansion project.

Sundance Mountain Resort president and general manager Chad Linebaugh said Utah Valley would benefit from hosting more music festivals and capitalizing on the area’s connection to A-list bands like Imagine Dragons and The Killers.

“We need more music events in this area,” said Linebaugh.

The nearly $1 million in funding going toward Bridal Veil Falls, which the county purchased in 2015, will be used to enhance trails and improve safety measures at the falls, where multiple climbers have died in recent years.

In November, Utah County Public Works Director Richard Nielson called Bridal Veil Falls a “symbol of Utah County” and said renovating the falls would benefit residents and tourists alike.

“It’s recognizable and it’s something that shows our connection with nature,” Nielson said.

Decommissioning process underway for Salt Lake Temple

The Salt Lake Temple, now closed for four years, is currently undergoing the decommissioning process The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Tuesday.

The decommissioning process will take several weeks and including removing sacred items from the temple and turning the area into a construction site.

“We have been preparing for months for this process, which began almost immediately after the temple closed to patrons on December 29,” said Rich Sutton, temple area director in a release.

The church said that items removed during the temple decommission process includes temple clothing, temple records and other items used int he completion of temple ordinances. When the process is completed, the temple is no longer considered a dedicated building and recommends will no longer be required to enter.

The church said Tuesday that the next step in the renovation of the temple is to remove furniture, which will be taken to storage areas or other church facilities. Some furniture may also be donated to help local nonprofit organizations.

The Salt Lake Temple’s renovation is expected to be completed in 2024, and will be followed by a public open house and rededication.

Provo's new municipal council members face projects ahead

After Monday’s inauguration, four new Provo Municipal Council members hit the ground running at Tuesday’s work session and regular council meeting.

Shannon Ellsworth, David Shipley, Bill Fillmore and Travis Hoban garnered voter confidence and came out on top during the November election. That quorum joins council veterans David Harding, Dave Sewell and George Handley as the new municipal council.

Tuesday’s work session was filled with a flood of information intended to bring the new council members up to speed on some of the most important issues the city is facing.

After a briefing on the open meetings law and the Government Records Access and Management Act required by law, Scott Henderson, director of Parks and Recreation and lead director for the new city hall project, updated the council on the facility.

“This is an exciting challenge,” Henderson said. “Our responsibility is to deliver a magnificent program.”

Henderson said that costs must still be in the budget constraints of the $69 million bond the public voted on. That will not be as easy as it looks, he indicated.

To show just how much costs have increased, Henderson said that six years ago when the recreation center was built the square footage cost was about $212 per square foot. To build the city building, the cost is about $320 per square foot.

Layton Construction, the project contractor, is in the final process of gathering schematic design estimates. Those should be done by March. Site work will begin in early April with construction starting in late April. The building, located at the corner of 500 West and Center Street, is expected to be completed by December of 2021.

After Henderson, Dave Decker, director of Provo’s Public Works department, updated the council on the waste water treatment plant. He gave a timeline of what has happened and, to the council, what is in their future for the facility.

“We’re going to the major projects right up front,” Decker said. He presented a 10-year timeline that touched lightly on all that has happened on the sewer improvements, pipe replacement and addition concerns, how the west side figures into the situation without sewer connects and the treatment plant itself.

Changes and upgrades to the waste water treatment plant are in response to the state legislature and the Department of Environmental Quality, Decker said.

The city, as well as many others around the state, are required to meet certain decreased levels of phosphorus and nitrates that are being sent from the treatment plant into Utah Lake — all of which goes into Provo Bay.

Decker said many cities asked for extensions.

“A five-year extension variance on the treatment plant was granted,” Decker said. “With several requirements the city has met.”

Decker said the city also received a $78 million loan from the Utah State Water Quality Board. It will go into effect July 1 with a four-year payoff.

Decker shared how waste water fees have increased since 2011, most of which helps with capital improvement projects. At that time, the average homeowner was paying $17.11 per month. This year, that amount will be $55.09. By 2023, it will be $82.52.

Decker said even if with those fee hikes, Provo still remains at the bottom of the fee scale compared to other cities along the Wasatch Front.

When it comes to sewer pipes, there are still large areas on the west side of Provo that don’t have them, other areas have limited capacity.

“$15 million worth of pipe has been laid on the west side over the past two years,” Decker said. There is now one master lift station at the airport. That master station eliminated five smaller lift stations.

In wrapping up his presentation, Decker said the construction and updating of the waste water treatment plant will begin in September.

The council also reviewed past goals and a council vision statement. They also briefly discussed a working list of priorities. Those will be discussed further in a weekend retreat.

Rona Rahlf, director of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, reported on six priorities that have come from an Envision Utah survey of more than 10,000 people.

The top priorities concern water, air quality, transportation, education, housing and open spaces.

Handley said he was concerned there was very little discussed about climate change.

“You’ve got to know our audience,” Rahlf said. “They don’t like ‘climate change’ in this county.”

She added that is why the terms water and air were used instead. The same was true for “high-density housing.”

It is a community challenge, Rahlf said. You get into density and then you have NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard).

New council member Shannon Ellsworth was concerned that women were not being represented fairly and equally on Envision Utah committees and other committees within the city. Only seven members of the Envision committee of the 36 were women. She would like to see it more 50-50.

The council will tackle other training in the coming months but, for the present, they will be gearing up to start hearing from city department heads on their budget needs for fiscal year 2020-2021.

'Please give them back to us': Grandparents of missing Idaho kids offer $20K reward

Surrounded by cameras in the middle of a small Idaho newsroom, Kay Woodcock gently reached out and held her husband’s hand as he announced a $20,000 reward is available to anyone with information about two missing Rexburg children.

“We just want an answer, that’s all,” said Larry Woodcock as he straightened a missing person poster on a table in front of him. “We hope and pray these kids are alive.”

The couple are the biological grandparents of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow who was reported missing last month along with his adoptive sister 17-year-old Tylee Ryan. The two kids haven’t been seen since September, Rexburg Police Department investigators reported.

During a press conference at the Rexburg Standard Journal newspaper on Tuesday, the grandparents answered questions and offered $20,000 for information about where the children are located.

“We pray in the end we get JJ, we get to spend more time with him and he’s OK and Tylee is OK,” Kay Woodcock said.

They explained they traveled from Lake Charles, Louisiana and spent more than six hours talking with authorities about the investigation on Monday. Both praised the FBI and local officers and detectives for the work and energy invested in finding the children.

“It’s nothing but encouraging,” Larry Woodcock said. “The effort has been amazing, it really has.”

Authorities believe the children’s parents, Chad and Lori Daybell, know either the location of the children or what happened to them, according to a press release issued last month. However, both adults fled from their Rexburg home before police could continue questioning them.

The couple also failed to report the children missing and repeatedly lied about the whereabouts of the children, police reported.

“They are extremely intelligent young children and we want them back. We want them back in our family,” Larry Woodcock said. “If there is anything that Lori can come forth with and help us, please do it. She knows how much we love these kids.”

Lori Daybell, 46, is the adopted mother of JJ and the biological mother of Tylee, according to the press release from the police department. Investigators were first alerted to the disappearances after one of JJ’s relatives asked for a welfare check since they hadn’t talked with him for months.

The Woodcocks explained JJ, who has special needs, would often call or video chat with them multiple times a day. He loved swimming and playing outside and often walked around with the video chat still playing.

“We knew every ceiling of every home they were in,” Larry Woodcock said with a chuckle.

The grandparents started to suspect something was wrong when JJ called them for just 36 seconds for the last time in August. JJ appeared happy in the video, they explained, but it seemed like someone was rushing him and directing him during the call.

The Rexburg Standard Journal reported JJ was adopted by Kay’s brother, Charles Vallow, who was married to Lori Vallow Daybell before he was shot and killed by her brother in Arizona last July.

Lori Daybell always took great care of their grandson and had his best interests at heart, Larry Woodcock stated during the press conference, adding “you couldn’t ask for a better mother.”

The couple said JJ was always happy and loved swimming, reading or playing outside but was prone to run off so family members learned to watch him closely.

“If Kay and I would’ve had any thought that in the future we were going to be involved in an issue like this, we would’ve never let JJ up for adoption. Never would’ve happened,” he said. “Please give them back to us.”

The grandparents said they didn’t receive a response to talk with JJ again after reaching out through countless phone calls, text messages and emails.

“We want JJ back. We want Tylee back. We want closure on this,” Larry Woodcock said. “Most of all, just make an old grandpa happy. Just find that boy.”

Lori Vallow married Chad Daybell were married shortly after the death of their spouses, the Associated Press reported.

A self-published author, Chad Daybell was previously married to Tammy Daybell who died in her sleep in October, according to her obituary.

She was a graduate of Springville High School and a former student at Brigham Young University. She also worked as a secretary for the city’s Parks Department and a computer teacher at Art City Elementary before the family moved to Idaho in 2015.

Tammy Daybell was buried at the Springville Evergreen Cemetery but her remains have been exhumed in connection with the disappearance, the AP reported. Results from the autopsy have not been released, but Rexburg police stated the death could be related to the two missing children.

“I just plead for Lori to please just let us know where the kids are,” Kay Woodcock said. “It’s not difficult, it will end all of this as far as the kids are concerned. We’ll go on our way.”

Police are asking anyone with information about the children to call Rexburg police or report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“We’re asking the public please, for God’s sake,” Larry Woodcock said. “Please, please, step up.”