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Everybody wants your money …

The past few years in Park City have been interesting.

Do you want better schools?
Here is a bond.

Do you want to fix transportation?
Here is a sales tax.

Do you want more recreation?
Here is a bond?

Do you want to save Bonanza Flat?
Here is a bond.

Do you want to try again to fix transportation and affordable housing?
Here is a bond.

Do you want to buy half of the Treasure Mountain project?
Here is a bond.

We wonder when this will lead to complete bond fatigue?

It reminds us of this classic scene from Airplane:

Perhaps the lack of snow is just what we needed …

What does it mean if it doesn’t start snowing?

Well, it makes winter here less fun… but it also means our local governments miss out on sales tax, report taxes, and Transient Room Tax (basically taxes paid by visitors using our hotels that can be used for specific things like tourism, recreation, etc.).

It appears that sales tax makes up about 15% of Summit County revenues. Taxes make up over 23% of Park City’s revenues.

Right now, due to lack of snow, our city and county managers have to be concerned. Is there enough money?

I had family in town over the Christmas holiday. I guarantee you they didn’t go back to Chicago and tell their friends how great Park City skiing is. I would imagine they are not alone. The lack of snow is going to impact reservations for MLK, Presidents’ Day, and spring break bookings. It’s also going to impact next Christmas as folks are going to be wary about coming during the early season, next year.

During a recent County Council meeting, County Manager Tom Fisher said he feared another recession (as he probably should). It doesn’t look like a recession is on the books… but this could impact us similarly. The problem is that the government has expanded our services based on the anticipation of these taxes. The Summit County budget, for example, has increased dramatically over the past few years (0ver 30%), while population growth has not.

Yet, in some ways I won’t be sorry if we have a winter without snow. Things feel over heated here. I enjoy skiing but I could give that up for a year, if it meant some stabilization. I’d like to know where we really are. I’d like to know what our community can really afford. I’d like to see mortgage rates at normal levels, so we know how much home people can really buy long-term. I’d like to know whether we really need another hotel at the Colby School. I’d like I’d like to know whether the current housing prices are an outlier or not, so we understand whether our schools will see an influx of children (if housing prices drops) or whether second home owners continue to rule.

I’d also like to know whether we truly have money to continue our bus program. I have fallen in love with the bus, and especially the 10 minute intervals for the Electric Express, but I’m not sure it makes sense economically.

I’d like to see whether we have good leadership. It’s often easy to lead when you are flush with cash… but the true test comes when there is adversity.

Frankly, no one knows what the weather will bring. We could record amazing snow through February, March, and April and no one may remember that this year started slow.

However, if it keeps the current pace, I likely won’t be sad. I’ll feel for those individuals who have to endure the hardship, but in the long-term our community will probably benefit from knowing what it truly is and what its capabilities are.

You may be losing some of your rights related to water

Last summer, Summit Water Distribution Company (SWDC) limited the days of week people could water. A neighbor accidentally watered on the wrong day and was visited by a representative of SWDC. According to the neighbor, he was told that he had better think about getting rid of his grass and landscaping because next year they were going to severely cut back his water. I told him that wasn’t possible, because he likely had rights to about 250,000 gallons a year. They can pro-rate the amount of water allotted during a shortage but how would an employee know a year ahead of time whether there would be a shortage?

We now know one of the ways they are planning on restricting water. 

If your water provider is SWDC, you would have received a notice of a “Special Meeting of the Summit Water Distribution Company.” This notice contains a voting slip, and a link to documents showing what changes they are proposing. In the Summary of Changes Articles, Article IX, it currently says “The Board of Directors shall have the power to adopt rules and regulations governing water use and shall, in the event of shortage, pro rate the available water….”  This is changed to  “The Board of Directors shall have the power to adopt rules and regulations governing water use and shall, in the event of shortage, or to encourage conservation, pro rate the available water….”

So, SWDC’s ability to limit your water would no longer be governed by an actual shortage but by the concept to encourage conservation.

Now, we have nothing against conservation. We live in the West where water is as valued as gold. We also realize that water rights have likely been oversold in Summit County.

That said, I do have a problem with signing away my available water. If this passes, it’s likely you’ll never have access to your full share of water again. You’ll probably pay the same amount each quarter but get less for it. 

The second problem is that the term encouraging conservation is so broad. There is no limit on it. We could have 5 record years of rainfall that replenishes our sources completely but they could still want to encourage people to conserve. Likewise, it seems they can use this broad term to limit levels to whatever they wish (as long as all people in a class have the same limits imposed). Does your 250,000 gallons get limited to 240,000 gallons or does your 250,000 gallons get limited to 50,000 gallons. That’s a big difference.

The third problem I have with this is that it’s a major change that was tucked away in a document. It’s as if they didn’t want people to see it. To gain my trust, I would have expected an accompanying document explaining this large change and why it is needed. Give me concrete details. Tell me what you are planning and why you are doing it.

There may be valid reasons SWDC wants to increase its level of control. However, I don’t currently trust the process. Perhaps if there was some limit on the level of reduction available due to “encouraging conservation” I could be more supportive. Likewise if there would be some explanation of why these changes are being made I may be more supportive. Otherwise, I’m left wondering why this change is happening. Have they mismanaged the water and there isn’t enough? Is this a way to make more money? Or maybe it is more benign and they just want some insurance and control should things go bad.

I will be voting no. I would encourage any share holder in SWDC to read the changes to the Articles and decide how you want to vote before the January 16th deadline or at the meeting being held January 16, 2018 at 6PM at the Jeremy Ranch Golf and Country Club.

Download document describing changes

How would you have voted on the I-80 wall near Jeremy Ranch?

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

– Spider Man’s Uncle Ben Voltaire

It’s been interesting watching the Battle for The Wall near Jeremy Ranch.

If you are not familiar, because UDOT is adding a truck lane to I-80, it opened up the possibility of adding a noise abatement wall along I-80 near Jeremy Ranch. The wall would run from the Jeremy Ranch Golf Course to the Hidden Cove area. Originally, a study recommended an 18 foot wall that could decrease sound by 5 decibels (or greater). Public outcry over wall height led to a proposed berm with a 7 to 17 foot high wall constructed that would reduce noise by 5 decibels (or greater) for certain homes (according to UDOT studies).

UDOT then followed its noise abatement policy and sent a ballot to property owners, in a certain area, that would see an estimated 5 decibel (or greater) reduction in noise. If 75% of the ballots were returned and 75% of the ballots returned voted for the wall, UDOT would build it. In the case of The Wall, it was approved with 25 votes for and 2 against. It was overwhelming. 93% of the people voted for it. The Park Record headline proclaimed “Jeremy Ranch residents approve Summit County’s first noise barrier.“ Umm, except, you know Jeremy Ranch has over 2,000 residents. There are over 600 homes. So, it may be more accurate to say that 4% of Jeremy Ranch homes voted for a wall. 

Yet, you know, The Wall isn’t just a Jeremy Ranch thing. Summit Park, Pinebrook, and Jeremy Ranch are the entry for many people coming to Park City. The Wall reflects on all of Park City. So actually, probably .0.3% of homes impacted by The Wall voted for this.

That said, we understand why someone may vote for The Wall if they lived in one of those 27 homes. Park City traffic is loud and it’s likely I-80 is pretty loud at these homes. Studies have shown that high levels of noise can cause health problems. People might also use trails adjacent toThe Wall and look forward to a quiet experience. So, I understand why people would seize the opportunity to try to make their lives quieter.

Yet, The Wall will likely be obtrusive. The berm and wall will likely be 18 feet high in places. It will likely impact peoples’ impressions of the area. It will likely be tagged. It will be reminiscent of areas along I-15, I-215, etc. in SLC. It probably doesn’t fit into what people think of when they think of a small mountain town. It will likely contribute to the notion that our community is another Sandy.

All that aside, what’s interesting about the vote for The Wall is that those types of votes rarely happen here. Usually your City, County Council, or Planning Commission make development decisions on your behalf. They usually make decisions based on how they perceive the overall benefit for the city or county. They vote for what they think is best for the community and not what may be best for them. Of course, they are elected to represent (or appointed by elected officials to represent), so that plays into it.

In this case, a decision was put into the hands of people directly impacted, and they made the decision. Twenty-five home owners/property owners/ tenants said, “we’d like that wall.” We don’t presume to know exactly why people voted as they did. However, we would guess that many voted with personal interests (as you might expect). One of the quotes in the Park Record article said, “The fact that there were people that would fight something I like this, I don’t understand that at all. I don’t understand that people would not want this to happen when they know it would be for the good of the people.” Let’s fix that. That should be “… when they know it would be for the good of a few people.”

I’m not sure how this benefits someone on Old Ranch Road, unless they are looking for a precedent to get their own wall. I’m not sure how it is good overall for the people of Jeremy Ranch, outside of the 25 voters, up to 15 other homes that may get some noise reduction, and the people who think it will make their trail commutes better. If 18 foot walls are good, then lets build them everywhere along I-80, 224, and 248. Most places in Park City could use some noise abatement.

In some ways I feel a little bad for the people compelled to vote on this. Just like the members of the County Council responsible for voting for the horrible redesign of The Village at Kimball 5 years ago, the people who voted for The Wall now own it. We hope they vetted the color, the design, the materials, the berm, the setbacks, and visual obstruction from every point. We hope they accounted for snow removal and the impacts of runoff and a million other things. That’s what the councils, their planning commissions, and staffs do in almost every case. They usually don’t depend on the developer (in this case UDOT) to give them complete facts. They usually depend on the developer to provide the absolute minimum that they are required to do.

Should the wall turn out great for the majority of Parkites, people will say, “that’s a nice wall.” Should it not go well, people will look at those 25 voters and squarely place blame.

What I do wonder, going forward, is how those people who voted with self-interest will treat other cases of self interest. Let’s say that a land swap deal was brokered to allow the hill across from the Jeremy Store to be zoned commercial and that allowed Gary Crandall to build a car dealership on the hill. Would the self-interested portion of The Wall voters stand up behind Gary Crandall and support his right to self-interest? Would they write letters to editor proclaiming that the car dealership is GOOD FOR THE PEOPLE? The people being Mr Crandall, his family, and his investors, of course. I mean, even Gary Crandall has to eat.

Again, I understand why people may have voted for The Wall. If I were in their situation, I may have done the same thing. However, I hope I would have viewed my position as having great responsibility. I would hope that I would view myself as casting a vote that represents the entire area.

Of course, I may be wrong, and the majority of citizens may want walls. If that’s the case, we better get to building those 18 foot walls everywhere.

PSA: Use Google Maps for busing information instead of the Park City Transit MyStop Mobile App

I still wouldn’t call myself a busing convert, but I had another good experience today. Today I took the Electric Express Bus from the KJ Transit Center to Old Town. There I caught a bus directly to Deer Valley. It probably took 10 more minutes than if I would have driven on my own, but it probably was a wash because the bus dropped me off at Snow Park Lodge (versus walking from the Lot 4 or 5 at DV). The fact the the Electric Express bus comes every 10 minutes makes it work. Without that, there is no way I would be on a bus.

One of the things that became clear, though, is that unless you’re a regular, figuring out which bus to take is a chore. On my way back I ran into a father and son from Boston. They were trying to head back to PCMR from Main Street. They had found their way to the Old Town Transit Center but barely. Four people had given them bad directions on how to get back to PCMR. I pulled out the trusty MyStop Mobile app and found they could take at the red bus or they could hop on the Electric Express Bus. The red bus would take them directly there, but it wasn’t coming for a while (and they would leant to make sure they were catching it on the way back to PCMR and not to Deer Valley). The Electric Express, coming in a minute, would drop them at Freshies and they would have to walk across the street about 3 minutes to PCMR.

The father and son hopped on the Electric Express with me but the bus driver had overheard the conversation. She said they should take Red Bus. They asked when it would arrive and she said in 5-10 minutes. They got off and I presume waited. Three minutes later those of us still on the Electric Express stopped at Fresh Market. They would have probably saved themselves 10 minutes on the express, or maybe more, but overall I hope it worked out.

So, I’m not a bus guy. I don’t know what best in class is in terms of bus timetables. What I do know is that for someone like me, figuring out the bus is hard. I would say that many people I rode with on the bus today would agree that it’s hard to figure out which bus to take. I’ve tried to use the MyStop Mobile app (pushed by Park City Transit) and it is good at showing you where buses are and telling you how late they are. But if you want to figure out which bus to take and when, good luck — at least from my experience.

With that in mind, I would recommend using Google Maps. Plug in your starting point and destination. Choose the public transport icon and it will tell you exactly what buses to take (by number and color). It will even tell you when you will probably arrive. Iif you are trying to figure out “how do I get from here to there,” it seems invaluable. It’ll also tell you what the cost and time would be with Lyft (hopefully similar to local transportation companies), so you can compare.

If you are looking for something to help you figure out how to use the bus effectively, we’d strongly suggest you give Google Maps a try.

NewImage

Am I an idiot for taking the bus?

So, my sister is in town and she has dinner reservations at Handle at 7 PM. I am planning on meeting her and taking the bus. I’m in Jeremy Ranch but I am going to drive to the KJ Transit Center. Buses leave every 10 minutes. So, I should be fine, right? I’ll check in along the ride.

Update 6:10pm

Arrived kJ. Planning on taking one of the electric express (ee) buses that run every 10 minutes. One ee bus is here but no driver.

6:14pm

Another ee bus arrives. Someone asks why it is 50 minutes late. Driver says everything is screwed up.

6:18pm

Driver opens up first bus and directs us on. She tells bus driver that it took 45 minutes outbound but inbound should be faster.

6:19 pm

And we are off. 9 minute wait isn’t too bad.

6:39pm

Arrive. Not bad. Traffic inbound seemed light, but that’s great. Also, since Handle is across the street from the transit center, it is almost perfect.

10:20pm

Outbound on another bus. Had to wait about 5 minutes.

10:45pm

Arrive at the KJ Transit Center.

*************************

All in all it was a good busing experience. It sounds like earlier, that the outbound buses from PC were way delayed but I didn’t experience that. I found the buses almost empty. While that may not be good overall, it made for a pleasant trip.

A solution to our annual traffic problems?

So I’m out with my kids and dog on the Millennium Trail this morning. We were on the section between Gorgoza and Fresh Market (by Pinebrook). All of a sudden, down the trail comes a BMW X3 with California plates. Yes, down the trail.

I quickly pull my kids and dog off the trail as they drive past. The woman in the passenger seat smiles and waves wholeheartedly. My five year old asks “Daddy, why are they driving on the trail?” And I answer that they shouldn’t be. He then asks, “why is she waiving at us?” I respond that it’s because they are clueless.

My kid then asks, “will they go to jail?” I say “No. I bet they are going sledding.” Yep. They somehow found their way around the Gorgoza pond, made it through the barriers that supposedly stop road traffic on the trail, and found their way out onto the road. They then headed down the road and pulled into the Gorgoza sledding hill parking lot.

I’ve seen a lot of head scratchers in my time time around Park City, but I’ve never seen a BMW on a 7 foot wide trail before.

Leaving Gorgoza, all I could think is that maybe UDOT almost had it right when they proposed a road next to the Rail Trail along 248. Instead, maybe they should have proposed that tourists drive the trails and leave the roads to locals.

I’d probably be OK with that trade-off.

Do you still want a Utah Olympics?

In October the Park Record’s editorial said Parkites should want to host another Olympics. Reading today’s Mountain Town news section, we wonder if that’s really true.

Park Record’s Mountain Town news is running a story about Alberta Canada vying for the 2026 Winter Olympics. Some of the choice quotes are:

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that a high-level financial analysis has estimated potential revenue for the 2026 Calgary/Canmore games at $2.19 billion, with expenses of $4.57 billion. That would leave taxpayers on the hook for $2.41 billion, with half of that expected to be covered by the federal government.

So this is Alberta, and things could be different in Utah, but their analysis is it will cost tax payers over $2 billion dollars. Uhh, that’s a lot of teachers… or really a lot of anything.

The article continues on:

According to the FiveThirtyEight, Bent Flyvbjerg at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School found an average 156 percent cost overruns for hosting the Olympics. This compares to 20 percent overruns for road projects, 34 percent for bridges and tunnels, 45 percent for rail projects, 90 percent for dams.

The good news is that Salt Lake’s Olympics in 2002 only overran the budget by 24%.

So we know the 2026 or 2030 Winter Olympics sounds cool, and it’s likely Utah will try to get it, but is it worth it? The proponents would tell you that what we’ll get out of the Olympics (long-term) is light-rail. That could be up Parleys (maybe… but it is pretty steep). That could be a connection from Big Cottonwood to PC (but that requires a big tunnel or 3 hour rides). That could be along 224 (most likely). Light rail is also $30 million a mile.

The question we ask is if we forgo the Olympics what could we do with a billion dollars?

Whatever it is, we’d bet it is better than light rail.

 

Do you trust Summit County and Park City with your information?

A friend of mine recently received a survey about the Summit Bike Share program. The survey ask questions like whether you ride a bike more after using the bike share, what changes you would make, and how you would rate features. I was about to write a scathing email about the use of Survey Monkey. It’s my belief that FEW serious organizations use Survey Monkey to make any decisions. That’s because it’s an online survey, often not crafted by professionals, and not usually representative (for a number of reasons). Therefore it provides unscientific results.

We’ve been hard on the school district, but they provide an example of what should be done. They recently hired Lighthouse Research and Development to create and administer a survey about why their bond failed. It’s a professional way to do it. The results are somewhat meaningful.

In this case, an online survey is rarely meaningful, but we’ll leave it at that. If you hear of any results of a Summit Bike Share Survey, we would say “take it for what it’s worth.” That said, there are more important issues here.

The more important issue is one of privacy and data collection. As part of our research above, we wondered if it would be possible to submit thousands of surveys anonymously, in order to skew results. What we found is that the survey was distributed via email and it contains a link to the survey that has a user identifier in it. It appears that by default Survey Monkey ties this user identifier back to responses. So, it is likely that the responses are not anonymous. More importantly, the survey asks two questions:

Summitbikeshare

What? Why do they need to know your age? Isn’t this about how to make the program better? More importantly, why do they need to know your income? That’s a head scratcher.

Unless explicitly turned off by the survey creator, all survey responses are tied back to your email (and name).

We then wondered what Summit Bike Share can do with your information. When you click on Summit Bike Share’s Terms of Use, go to the Privacy Policy and click on the link, it takes you to this:

 

Chatanooga

Sweet, your privacy is governed by some bike share out of Tennessee! Gives you faith doesn’t it?

Now, to be somewhat fair, most of this is run by a company called Bewegen out of Canada (the makers of the e-bikes). Their company name is at the bottom of the survey email. However, it’s done on behalf of Summit County and Park City. The question I ask is should my friend expect her name to be tied to every survey question she answered and will that be provided to Summit County and Park City? Almost certainly. Will her age be on that survey response? Probably. Will her income be on that survey response? I’d guess so.

Just like with the School Board audit, the buck stops with Summit County and Park City. They are ultimately responsible for the actions of Bewegen.

Our only hope is that no one provided any information they didn’t want employees of Park City, Summit County, or some random Canadian company to see. If our local governments were provided with your name, email, age, and income, we hope they would delete those columns of information upon receipt. We’d hope they aren’t saying things like “Can you believe Sally Jones is really 59?” or “how does the Jones family make $125,000?”.

Again, it’s just a mess. We’ve outsourced this process and it feels out of control. Who knows who has your information?

We’ve got to be better.

 

Park City School District’s inappropriate contract highlights many issues

On Thursday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported about a state audit finding where “Park City School District awarded an inappropriate contract to a general contracting firm that later violated state law while acting on the district’s behalf.”

Basically our school district awarded a contract that included language that could incentivize Hughes Contractors to charge tax payers more money than they should. The Park City School District agreed to pay both project costs and an additional percentage on top of those costs. According to Utah State Auditor John Dougall, “You have an incentive to inflate the cost because then percentage of cost is a bigger number” in this type of contract.

Then Hughes, acting on the district’s behalf, didn’t properly bid out work. That’s illegal.

According to the Tribune, Park City School Board president Andrew Caplan generally agreed with the findings but stated that the contract with Hughes ends at the end of the year, so it wouldn’t make financial sense to pull the contract now. He did say that “any future contracts will obviously be carefully reviewed for compliance with the Procurement Code.”

School District spokesperson Melinda Colton then told The Salt Lake Tribune district officials would have no further comment.

We have at least four issues with this mess.

First, obviously it’s a big issue. It has provided an opportunity for improper use of tax payer money. Additionally, it shows that there was a lack of oversight by our district.

Second, we’ve heard from various sources around town that the school district is trying to be more tight-lipped — that communication is being tightly controlled. We’re not a fan of that, but we suppose that’s the prerogative of school district leaders, some of which can be elected or “un-elected.” That said, to have audit issues show state laws were violated, and then say that you’re not going to comment any more about it, isn’t right.

Our third issue is that this story had to be dug up in the Salt Lake Tribune. This should have been front page news for the Park Record on Saturday. We need real reporting from the Park Record. Sometimes that happens, but sometimes it feels like the Park Record is an advertising circular in the middle of the Sunday Paper. We need the Park Record to do its job all the time.

The fourth issue is something we’ve worried about since the failed school district bond in 2015. It seems that in most discussions of new or replacement buildings, the architecture firm VCBO is a part of the needs assessment. They have often driven the discussion and sometimes pushed for things like additional athletic facilities.We’ve assumed the bidding process was fair. However, we’ve always been concerned they will be part of the construction of these buildings as well. If so, it’s much like the issue the Utah State Auditor had with Hughes Contractors. If VCBO drives the architecture of buildings and then VCBO is involved with constructing buildings, it provides an incentive for VCBO to over-architect so that it increases the payback during construction. We shouldn’t put ourselves or VCBO in that position. It’s a potential conflict of interest — and one that hopefully this audit highlights.

The Park City School District is in a period of flux. The Superintendent is leaving. Two board members have resigned. Audit reports like the one identified by the Salt Lake Tribune highlight previous issues.

This is likely one of those times that warrants extreme public scrutiny of the Park City School District. It’s a time where we need to ensure that the future is brighter than the recent past.