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Can the Park City School District Be Saved From Itself (and Us)?

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”  –-Walt Kelly

On Thursday night the Park City School Board voted to increase taxes in order to cover a shortfall and raise $3+ million per year. The reasons communicated by various board members include the need for more teachers due to increased enrollment, enrollment by out of district students, agreeing to too much in teacher salary/benefits during the previous negotiations, and healthcare costs that have risen more than could be expected.

Two days before, citizens spoke to the School Board during a truth and taxation meeting.  Former School Board member Vern Christensen put together a forecasting model that suggested that given the best case the school district would no longer be able to raise taxes (due to state limits) in 6 years.  His worst case had us hitting that limit in 3 years. He stated that the costs were out of line with a reality where compensation rises, pensions rise, insurance costs rise but we don’t have the money to pay for it.  Another citizen said that in 2012 taxes were raised and that was supposed to last 5 years.  She asked why 2 years later we were here again.  Snyderville Basin Planing Commissioner Chuck Klingenstein said there were no programs in place to monitor this situation, no forecasted budgets, no implementation plans, and no assessments of programs.  He also lamented that he felt like he put in a lot of research time during the proposed 2012 tax increase but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Unfortunately deaf ears seem to persist.  The vote was 4-0 in favor of the tax increase (with one member abstaining). Yet, during the discussion leading up to the vote, one could tell that the board seems to realize there is a problem.  School Board President Moe Hickey commented, “There is no significant cut unless we cut programs or change delivery mechanisms.”  Another member commented they they previously had tried to increase class size to help solve budget problems, “and the people went nuts”.  It was also stated that they realize program like Early Release put pressure on the system.   It’s almost like the $17 trillion national U.S. debt.  Most people realize its an issue, but it’s just too big to solve. So they let it ride and hope for the best.

The School Board did discuss some “solutions” like encouraging the Utah state legislature to give schools more money, talking about lowering future growth of teacher salaries and benefits, and mentioning that retirement funding requirements may not continue to rise every year. Unfortunately this mix of candy cane wishes and gingerbread hugs isn’t likely to come to fruition.

The truth is that we as a community are nearing our limit to fund the school system we currently have.  Even if we are willing to pay increasingly more taxes for the same outcome we have today, shortly that ability to raise taxes is going to be slammed down on us by state law.  At that point, it is likely drastic cuts will take place.  As has been repeated by School Board members, there are really only two ways to address the issue long-term, cut programs and reduce overall money spent on compensation.  That is what will happen, one way or another, eventually.

Given the current situation, we as citizens can’t demand the problem be fixed but then “go nuts” about class sizes.  We can’t say we need to figure out how to handle rising salaries but then write 100 letters to the Park Record complaining that if we don’t have the best paid teachers in the state our children will suffer.  We can’t say we need to cut programs but then protest when the CAPS program is shelved or early release is cut back.

If we don’t begin to realize that cutbacks are needed, taxes will continue to rise, until they can’t.  At that point the only option will be cuts in programs and cuts in teachers.  Meanwhile, the average citizen’s property taxes will have been raised for education — and if you are one of the unlucky ones your home valuation will have risen from 2010-recession lows — it will be a triple whammy.  You’ll have paid more taxes to schools along the way.  Then your home value increases and you pay even more.  Then the teachers and programs are swept away regardless, leaving higher taxes but worse education than you started with.

Unfortunately there will be pain.  We can’t get anywhere from here without a little discomfort.  The question is whether we as citizens are willing to give our elected officials the “cover” they need to do what must be done now, or will we continue to demand that which is unsustainable?  If we choose the latter path we need to be prepared for an eventual eruption that will likely be very devastating to our community.

Note: if you’d like to hear audio from the meeting where they vote to raise taxes, the Park City School district has it online.  It’s great that they offer this, by the way.  Unfortunately, this time it’s poor quality, so we have tried to increase the sound on the copy below. You’ll likely have to increase your volume to hear it.


Do You Want A Drive Through Coffee Stand in the Walmart Parking Lot?

Silver King Coffee is requesting that the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission allow them to build a coffee stand in the Walmart parking lot. They are presenting a plan on Tuesday to the Commission in the hopes that they will allow them to add the building to the parking lot in front Great Harvest Bread.

Because the current zoning doesn’t allow for this type of operation, they are trying to use something called a Specially Planned Area (SPA) to accomplish the goal. The SPA has typically been used to build areas like the Tanger Outlet Mall and the expansion at Utah Olympic Park.

If you have opinion either way, you should let the Planning Commission know. I’m not exactly sure how you should do that via the County’s new website. However, I suppose you could email the County Planner that is working on this:

Ray Milliner


Should UTA Issues Kill The Mountain Accord? Maybe Dave Ure is on to something.

Summit County Council Member David Ure raised concerns during a recent County Council meeting regarding an audit of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) and how that relates to supporting the Mountain Accord. The Mountain Accord is a massive project that hopes to redefine how our mountains are accessed, and includes partners such as UTA, local governments, Ski Utah, and the US Forest Service.

Essentially the issue is that Utah has mountains, lots of people that want to use them, and that is causing problems. The Mountain Accord is the latest in a long line of attempts to “make long-term decisions regarding the future of the central Wasatch Mountains.” That sounds really broad — and is. What it really boils down to is figuring out a way for people to access ski resorts, hiking, biking, etc. more efficiently. Intertwined with that are water issues, pollution, and a myriad of other issues related to our natural resources.

This brings us back to David Ure, who is one of the most interesting members of the Summit County Council. Ure was previously a Utah state legislator and is the council member that represents the views of eastern Summit County. He is a Cattle farmer from Kamas and thinks like one. That’s not a derogatory statement in the least. In fact, it’s a glowing compliment. He doesn’t seem to get wrapped up in politics; he just calls it as he sees it and in this case he has done us all a favor.

Most of us probably hadn’t paid attention to a recent audit of UTA — but maybe we should have. UTA are the folks that handle transportation in Utah. They run busses, light rail, and a train that runs along the Wasatch Front. Many Utahns depend on UTA every day. However, the recent audit does not paint them in very favorable light. The August 2014 audit highlights:

  • They pay their executives much more than you’d expect
  • They don’t report all their data to a state transparency website
  • Rail upkeep costs are significant and underfunded
  • They may need to cut service in order to meet financial constraints
  • Future transit projects depend on new funding sources

Wow.  So basically if you were researching which charity to give to, you would avoid this one.  Too many administrative expenses,  not transparent, doesn’t budget correctly, underfunds major upcoming expenses, and a needs to cut services.  Using a phrase I could envision Ure saying, “We are hitching our wagon to a broken down pony.” You see, if cars are banned from little Cottonwood Canyon, who do you think is going to run that bus service?  If light rail runs up Parley’s Canyon to Park City, who is going to run that train?  If we are going to connect all the resorts, who is going to do that?  UTA.

If we look back to the 2012 audit, it is just as bad:

  • Paying interest on debt will consume a great portion of is future sales tax revenue
  • Revenue projections are optimistic and expense projections may be understated
  • Financial limitations may affect future service levels
  • Cost-effectiveness has decreased

So, it’s obviously not a new problem.

Yet, the Mountain Accord proceeds down the path with this partner — a partner that seems fundamentally flawed.  If there is an outcome, it is likely to be heavily dependent on UTA.  With that comes a highly inefficient organization that puts itself over the needs of Summit County.  Will it be able to meet its obligations?  Are their current suggestions based on trying to find a way to pay for past obligations and not what is best for us? Given financial constraints, will a solution for solving our problem (traffic on 224 and 248) be addressed at all?  How much more will it cost taxpayers than it should, due to excessive salaries?

The problem with fighting Mountain Accord is that someone has been very smart in assembling this endeavor.  They enlisted local politicians, businesses, and organizations from the get go. Imagine that you are a local politician that has been meeting for months and spent countless hours on this issue.  In addition you have convinced your city or county to spend thousands of dollars in support of the initiative.   You aren’t going to want to invalidate that time by calling a spade a spade. You may overlook some of the issues with UTA.  You may rationalize and justify that the overall good of the project outweighs other issues like compensation.  You may be willing to risk the entire effort on whether UTA will financially be able to deliver.   You’ll try to find a way to make it work.   And that just may be a disservice to the people you represent.

We all want to ensure that our mountains, and really our community’s lifeblood, is maintained for our children.  Yet, perhaps a more tactical solution, dedicated to Summit County, makes sense. David Ure stood up and said “PAY ATTENTION” and for that we thank him.  He truly seems to have our best interest at heart.

Hopefully our other leaders will at least take a second look and decide whether the Mountain Accord, as it is progressing today, is right for the people they represent. Our hope is that they truly examine not only how good it sounds but truly what is likely to be delivered. Will that be good for Summit County? If not, we hope they decide to go in another direction.

Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t include this video from another town’s fight:

Kimball Arts Center, Don’t Go Away Mad, Just Go Away

Like a scorned lover, the Kimball Arts Center says it’s leaving town.  No longer can it deal with such a judgmental lover like Park City.  “What? I can’t build a gigantic 5 story Lincoln Log  building off Main St?  OK, I’ll do something different.  I have the finest architects from Honningsvåg working on it.  There is no way you can turn down this design. An industrial spaceship straight out of 1961… a design to take Park City into the 21st century”.

We bid you adieu Kimball Arts Center knowing that the right decision was probably made.  If the city had bowed to your demands, it would have been more about you than Park City — a building to shake up the design of that little mining town that hosts Sundance.  You would have really put your mark on it. People would have walked by and said, “wow, that looks so different” and perhaps “wow, that looks so stupid”.

Anyhow that’s really it.  The design never was about fitting into Park City and providing arts to visitors and the community alike.  It was about shaking things up. Whether that was by design or the way the architect worked out, it does’t really matter.

Now you are free to explore your options.  We would recommend the old Colby School Building.  Tear down that old,  “non-innovative” structure and build whatever you like.  Use Lincoln Logs, Legos, or stardust, for all we care.  Build a spaceship or just a ship.  The question for you, though, is if you build it, will anybody come?

Can We Please End the War on Dogs?

Did you know every 3 minutes someone is viciously attacked by a dog in Park City… or so you might think if you read editorials in the Park Record and visit Park City’s Suggestion website, “Let’s Talk Park City”. For instance, there is this gem on, “Tired of people who think it’s o Kay to let their dogs run and force me to stop my exercising because i do not know what their animal is going to do. They also are notorious for leaving the **** bags for someone else to pick up. Tired of this entitlement attitude.”

Then there is Muriel Valle who writes a letter to the editor in today’s Park Record, “My husband and I have been coming to Park City for the month of August for the last three years to escape the heat in Phoenix…  I do not appreciate dogs bounding up to me all over the place and would hope that the city of Park City will address this problem … I will be following closely the follow up to this problem in Park City. Hopefully, we will be able to return to enjoy your lovely location next year.”  My response, “Please just don’t come back Muriel”.  If the beauty of our town isn’t enough to overcome a dog bounding toward you, well there are probably better places for you to visit.   I hear St Augustine Florida is really nice and slow.

I don’t doubt there are occasions when dogs do jump on people or encroach on people’s exercise.  I just don’t see it that often.  In 5 years of hiking Round Valley, the Rail Trail, the Millennium  trail, and others, the number of obnoxious dogs I have encountered could be counted on one and a half hands.  In that time, I have definitely accidentally stepped in horse manure at Round Valley that was not “picked up”, almost been knocked down by mountain bikes going to fast, got pushed out of the way by skate skiers, and been yelled at by race runners who didn’t understand that our trails are shared.

Typically this is when an article like this goes into a long diatribe about how we need to share our trails and just get along.  That is true, but I’ll go a different direction.  Just stop.  People writing letters to the editor, people complaining about some 15 year old Jack Russell Terrier walking in front of them on the trail, people just generally bitching about dogs… stop.  You’ve said your piece.  You are now just getting on our nerves.

County Council person  Roger Armstrong  heard you and started Summit County on a year long mission to figure out the dog situation.  County Council person Kim Carson managed that year long mission and a committee of local citizens tasked to figure it all out.  What did they figure out?

Dogs are complicated.

What I will tell you is that I have seen more dogs on leash in the last few weeks, than ever before.  You’ll often hear the owner say something like, “yeah Mitsy is fine off-leash, but Bruno just doesn’t get along too well with other dogs, that’s why he’s leashed.”  Perfect.  A responsible dog owner acting a little different than she did before.   I attribute that difference to the work our elected officials have already spent on this issue.

So, to those of you still complaining about off-leash dogs, you have already won.  Your elected officials heard you, spent a lot of time, came up with a few things to help, and people took it on their own to be more responsible.  In the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, “I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way.”

The next time an elderly dog wanders in front of you on your run, please remember that we are all lucky to live in this place.  Its beautiful but not perfect.  No amount of complaining is going to bring perfection.  But dogs or not, it’s pretty close.


Leslie Thatcher Questions Summit County’s New Website

During Today’s Local News Hour on KPCW, host Leslie Thatcher told County Manager Bob Jasper about problems she experienced on the County’s new website.  Thatcher said, “the biggest thing I really noticed is there is definitely a delay, when you go from page to page… [also] the really valuable  real-estate is the [information] that is on the screen and it seems for everything you have to scroll down.

For full disclosure, I had the chance to be part of the committee that recommended which web site the County should choose.  The one chosen was unanimously in the top 2 choices among everyone on the committee.  However, Thatcher is correct.  The new site is slow and takes a lot of work to get to the content one desires.

One of the major concerns with the previous website was how it looked. It was dated and some might have even called it ugly.  The simplicity and speed of the old site has been traded for aesthetics.  The likely reason the site is slow for Thatcher and others is that the home page is over 3MB in size, about the size of a music download.  The larger the page size, the more time it takes to download and display content.  Compound that with the fact that Summit County residents seem to use their mobile phones for browsing web content (75% of Parkrag’s traffic is from mobile) and it is going to be slow.

Thatcher’s concern about scrolling is accurate as well.  You want to have your important content “above the fold”, a phrase borrowed from the newspaper business which wanted the best stories up near the headlines.  In the case of Summit County, menu items and a picture are generally the only things above the fold.  While it would be better if important content was above the fold everywhere, this may acceptable on the home page. However, it is definitely not acceptable on secondary pages with important content.  If the County would remove the pictures and drop the hexagonal menu items from secondary pages, this would allow real content to move up and become visible.  It would also speed up load times, because the pictures are so large in size.

The good news is that once you do get to the content, it’s much improved.  You don’t have to look past the Agenda Center to see how much more usable this site is than the previous incarnation.  Related documents are linked right next to their content and you don’t have to use external programs to views agendas.  It’s a marked improvement.

The other good news is that the website is only about a month old.  If the County is responsive to criticism, such as Thatcher’s, they will be able to gradually improve the site over the next few months.  Once a few tweaks are in place, hopefully we will have a website that is not only pretty but smart too.