During a weekend retreat Jan. 11, the Orem City Council and city leadership set their top five goals for 2020, with the No. 1 priority centered on homeowners.
Mayor Richard Brunst said the retreat produced some good discussion on issues important to residents.
“We had an excellent retreat,” Brunst said. The group set goals ranging from keeping neighborhoods family-oriented while allowing for properly maintained growth, to city facilities and infrastructure upkeep.
Councilman Tom Macdonald said he was glad the council could come together with good feelings and good interaction.
“The way any organization I’ve been with that works well is dropping egos at the door and to work as a team,” Macdonald said.
The top goal for the council is to execute the neighborhood plans, which include protecting internal bedroom communities while allowing all types of housing but in the right location, Brunst said.
“How we grow matters,” Brunst said. “We want to manage our growth properly. We want to protect schools, parks and homes.”
Brunst recognized the State Street Master Plan as a reasonable accommodation for mixed-use high density housing. Apartments are to be built along the main corridor and with reason in the Utah Valley University area, such as the new apartments, The Green on Campus Drive, formerly the Palos Verdes project.
The council also discussed legal and illegal apartments, fixed incomes and how they might adjust or rethink uses for renting rooms, detached apartments, and basement apartments as the homeowners age and need some form of additional income and who could also provide low income housing.
“It’s time to revisit the rental issues,” said Councilwoman Debby Lauret, who is serving as mayor pro tem.
Another of the group’s priorities after housing is employee compensation.
According to Lauret, the city is doing an employee compensation study to look at first responder’s pay and other jobs within the city.
“We need to make sure we’re competitive and also retaining employees,” Lauret said. “We may have to do a one-time (compensation) bump, and then how are we going to fund this in the long run.”
Lauret said the council is concerned about having sustainable funds for compensation in case another recession hits and sales tax revenues drop.
“We can’t be so dependent on sales tax,” she said.
The city is also being impacted by a healthy job market. According to Steven Downs, city spokesman, there are jobs open in the city but not enough qualified applicants to fill them.
Brunst added the council will be taking a really good look at the study numbers to make sure the city is not losing out by not being competitive.
Macdonald added that the council is grateful to the LDS Church, Woodbury Corp. and many others who continue to bring jobs and attention to Orem.
The council wants to also take a deeper dive into sustainability. Brunst said the three prong focus is on revenues, expenditures and infrastructure.
“We’ve got to stay up with this,” Brunst said, referring to infrastructure. “This city is one of the best I’ve seen for planning ahead for infrastructure. Our city has stayed on top of water issues since 1905.”
From having a compliant wastewater treatment plant by Utah State law to replacing all the street lights and stop lights with LED energy saving lights, Brunst said the city goal is to stay out in front of any potential problems.
“We stand on the shoulders of great people that came before us,” Macdonald said. “We are beneficiaries of wise planning. The economy was tough from 2008 to 2012. We didn’t keep up with infrastructure.”
The retreat discussion turned to residents who have given some pushback on water rates, which are scheduled to raise to more than $82 a month for an average home in the next two years as part of a five-year capital improvements plan. Those same homes were paying about $17 five years ago. Macdonald noted that even with the fee increases, Orem is still comparable to most cities with lower water rates along the Wasatch Front.
Lauret said the council must take a second or third look at those fee impacts.
“We need to go back and look closer at the water fee structure and see where we are at,” Lauret said. “We need to look at our utilities to see if we are meeting the seven-year plan.”
Communication with legislators
Another goal the council feels is critical to have is a better communication and relationship with state legislators representing Orem.
“We want to make sure there is better communication,” Lauret said. “We need to understand their priorities and they need to understand ours.”
The city council and the legislators have the same constituents and that means it is important to have that two-way communication, Downs said.
New city hall
Coming in at fifth place in the list of priorities is the council looking at developing plans for a new city hall.
“We know it’s something we must look at,” Lauret said. “But a new building doesn’t make sense until the first responders (compensation) issue is taken care of. We are going to have to bite the bullet.”
Brunst is very concerned about the safety of the building and how much money is being dumped into it for repairs. Some portions of the building are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the past two years, according to Brunst, more than $800,000 has been put into repairs for the city building.
“This building was built the same time the Provo city hall was built 50 years ago,” Brunst said. “It is unsafe, insufficient and in constant repair.”
According to Downs the council will devote this year to evaluating how they could build a new city hall without money coming from the taxpayer.