As a legislative intern, Jan Wells has observed that local government officials are not only heard but also are heeded at the Utah Legislature.
As Utah's newest local government official, she hopes her observation is correct."I think cities and towns do have a voice at the Legislature, but unless they get involved, it doesn't do them any good," said Wells. "People can accomplish a lot of good if they get involved."
Wells gets involved.
A University of Utah student, she participates in the Hinckley Institute of Politics' legislative internship program, working afternoons in the House Minority Leadership office. A mother, she serves on the PTA's legislative committee. A resident of Riverton, she served a four-year term on the City Council and then ran unsuccessfully for mayor. :wq! Last week, the council selected Wells to fill a vacancy left by council member Raquel DeLuca, who moved out of Riverton. She was sworn in to office Tuesday.
Having seen representative government work at both the state and local level, she is persuaded that the two have a symbiotic rather than an adversarial relationship.
"The representatives and senators up here are really concerned about their constituents, and they do respond to local officials," Wells said. "Unfortunately, unless council members and mayors work with the League of Cities and Towns or take the time to monitor the Legislature themselves, they aren't always aware of bills that might affect their communities."
Local government leaders sometimes discover after the fact and to their dismay that the Legislature enacted laws that are detrimental to them, she said.
"Council members and mayors ought to make more of an effort to participate. If there is an issue that affects them and they take the time to come up and deal with it, I think they will get good results."
This year, lawmakers are considering 54 bills that might interest local officials, including amendments to the law governing the recall of local officials.
RIVERTON is closely watching the progress of proposed changes in the so-called "truth in taxation" law, a bill that is on just about every local government's legislative priority list. City Manager Craig White calls the current law "distorted and confusing" because, he says, its implementation misleads taxpayers about apparent tax increases.
And a notice provision in the law is burdensome to small towns like Riv-erton that can't afford the $2,500 cost of buying advertising space in community newspapers, Wells added.
White said Riverton is also interested in a bill that would require monthly rather than quarterly remittance of sales tax revenues. Another bill could increase or decrease the amount of road maintenance work local governments may do without bidding the jobs out to private contractors and could affect the city in the future, White said.
WEST JORDAN's legislative priorities include funding for the West Valley Highway from 5400 South to 9000 South; the widening of 9000 South from the Jordan River to Redwood Road; and recodification of planning and zoning law, as well as the truth in taxation and sales tax bills.
City Manager John Hiskey agrees with Wells that local officials must participate in the legislative process if they expect fair consideration of their priorities.
West Jordan officials have communicated their interests to their legislators in a number of ways, Hiskey said. Like a number of cities, West Jordan sponsored a pre-legislative dinner with a menu including a discussion of the community's legislative agenda.
Since then, West Jordan Mayor Kenneth A. Miller has personally led the city's lobbying team, Hiskey said, noting that elected officials have special access and influence at the Legislature.
WEST VALLEY CITY is concerned about a number of bills, including legislation that could limit the eminent domain powers of redevelopment agencies, Mayor Brent F. Anderson said.
Like its neighboring towns, Utah's second largest city is also endorsing the proposed changes in truth in taxation. Anderson said the law's requirements for public hearings and notice seem unwarranted when city tax notices reflect revenue increases caused by growth rather than actual tax increases.
Also, West Valley law enforcement officials are monitoring a bill that would limit the use of radar-photography to catch speeders. The city is considering using the equipment, which photographs violators in the act.
MURRAY is keeping a close eye on a riverway enhancement bill that would put $2 million into the development of parks and recreational facilities along Utah rivers. Officials are also interested in a bill calling for the reorganization of the judicial system. If passed it could put courts back into the cities.
Mayor Lynn Pett said the city is also monitoring a bill that would require standardized flashing lights around elementary schools. Speeders in school zones would be charged heavy fines.
- With reports from JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells, urban affairs writer.