I’ve been in office for just over 100 days and if asked today what are Mapleton’s biggest challenges, I’d respond with one thing: Money. My most pressing worries are regarding funding for streets, funding for the sewer plant replacement, and an underlying need to diversify our revenue sources to ensure long-term solvency (let’s get our eggs into more than one or two-ish baskets (property taxes and development-related fees). Yet, somehow, Mapleton is stable or even in an advantageous position that, 100 days ago, I would’ve sworn impossible. As this pandemic devastates sales-tax-revenue-driven cities, we’re resting cautiously, but optimistically, on our high property taxes and non-dependence on sales tax.
In the absence of an economic catastrophe in our city, we’ve been fortunate to spend the majority of our recent efforts moving forward pre-crisis initiatives, albeit adjusting to Zoom-based City Council meetings, where I anxiously await to see who will have the best background. (So far, I don’t think anyone has beaten my Star Trek Enterprise bridge; however, Sean Conroy, Community Development Director, is apparently known to sneak in old photos of employees – be warned!)
So, while my original “first 100 days” blog was intended to be a list of insights and lessons learned (e.g., Mapleton is well managed; progress comes through prioritization; citizen engagement varies – and that’s okay), I decided that was more for my “Dear Diary” than for the citizens. Instead, I present to you three things I wish our citizens all knew:
Watch the State of the City Address
Given in March, Mayor Dallas Hakes reviewed accomplishments, challenges, and opportunities for the City. Whether you are a constant critic or an engaged enthusiast, take the initiative to learn this fundamental information. The straightforward update will also reinforce the City’s commitment to transparency – it isn’t all rainbows and puppies, folks (but there sure are a lot of rainbows and puppies, thankfully). Please watch and share this important once-a-year information found HERE, at the Mapleton City official Facebook page. It’s about 28 minutes, so grab a beverage and pull up a chair.
Understand the Wastewater Treatment Plant Situation
Currently, Mapleton owns 26% of the operations for the Spanish Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant. New requirements from the State Division of Water Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency are resulting in upgrades or total replacements to treatment plants across the State. The 50-year-old Spanish Fork Plant is outdated and has inadequate capacity to support the growth of both cities. As such, a replacement is required. The replacement is estimated to cost $80M, $20M of which is Mapleton’s portion. We are currently working through multiple scenarios to ensure a win-win for both cities and citizens. No matter the scenario, however, a fee increase will occur.
The unfortunate aspect for those of us who have to cast votes is that citizens will not likely observe any improvements to service: your toilets will still flush, but won’t magically become self-cleaning. Throughout the process, we have considered our citizens and their needs, including those on fixed incomes, those with smaller households, those with larger households, and our large senior population. For some, this will be painful. We know that and are working to find the best option. As of our Council meeting yesterday (4.15.2020), it looks like there is a potential solution that I’d consider a huge win. I’m hoping our summer rate increase (about July 1) will be no more than $10 per month (per connection) and that future annual increases will be comparable until we hit a maximum rate that’ll carry us until the facility is paid off. (As a note of consideration, we are currently one of the lowest rates in the State at $25.45 per month.) I also support publishing a 5-year fee schedule to provide advance notice for citizens who would benefit from advanced notice and as a measure of transparency. I expect this will also occur.
While it’s hard to be in this position, it’s is something we must do; now, though, our responsibility rests in finding the best financing model for our city and citizens. I believe we’ll get there. Meanwhile, what our citizens can do to support this initiative is to understand the cost of municipal services, accept the “must-do” reality of the situation, and begin identifying strategies to accommodate a fee increase for their household monthly budgets.
(Also, it would be helpful if no one brings rotten fruit to throw at the Council. Perhaps that’s another reason Zoom is beneficial.)
Learn About Optimal Street Degradation Schedules
Okay, so I like the phrase “optimal street degradation schedules.” As I’ve learned more about this subject, what I’ve come to love is that this term reflects the City’s transition from an often-reactive street maintenance strategy to proactive, long-term strategy driven by data science and enhanced by technology. Steven Lord, our Public Works Director and City Engineer, has put on his magic sorting hat and is finalizing a streets master plan that includes the assessment and grading of every street in Mapleton, goals for maintenance, and identification of in which year each maintenance strategy is applied to each street. By following this plan, we could effectively add up to 20 years to the life of each street, saving us millions of dollars over time.
We anticipate a major investment (potentially $6M) to get the entire city to the optimal maintenance level and we would like to tackle this within the next few years. In fact, last month we approved a historic $1.4M investment in our streets for the 2019-2020 fiscal year (maintenance to be completed by June 30; check out the interactive 2020 street maintenance map here.). Our approach to funding this investment was through conservative routes that protect our reserves, too. In addition to improving the long-term strategy, this plan maximizes the use of each tax dollar and responds to the citizen requests (including those documented through the recent survey) supporting investment in our streets.
So, what can our citizens do to support this effort? Give Public Works an elbow-five if you’re ever able to get within six feet of them. This is a positive step for – literally – generations.
Finally, since this is my “100 Days” blog, I wanted to include two of the most personal observations during my brief service:
It’s a tough job and I love it.
I’ve invested hundreds of hours in City work over the last few months. It has challenged me, brought out every emotion, and made me question myself one too many times. Yet, the biggest conflict for me is how much I love it – I want to work on all the things and with all the people – so finding a balance with family, work, and other responsibilities is difficult at times.
Service is at our core.
I’ve been in dozens of committee meetings to see how our citizens, elected officials, and staff take on challenges, create beautiful opportunities to enhance relationships and culture, and give generously of their time and other resources. What we have here is amazing and my gratitude and love for our neighbors grow all the time. We need you – thank you!
City planning is both an art and a science; it requires both to sustain and create something beautiful and also to effectively deliver services. Mapleton is at the crossroad where art and science collide within our General Plan Land Use Element and our Parks and Recreation Master Plan update. That 2020 is a visionary year is no understatement for us. In fact, this crossroads will result in decisions that will shape our community for generations. Let’s make ‘em good ones!
Throughout the Update process, we’ve identified images that best reflect our preferences for the future Mapleton; we’ve also completed a scientific survey with quantitative findings that inform and elevate the image-driven anecdotes. This art-and-science-approach has layers of nuances important to our planning: we prefer investing in more trails than building more parks, we prefer lots no less than ¼ acre, we love where we live more than most people in most towns. [See my previous blog for more details on the simple truths, including thoughts on how we agree and disagree with each other.]
There is, however, far more value in the data that gives us powerful insights into priorities, resource allocation, and citizen characteristics. Since the last blog, I dug into the statistical analyses of this data to discover where we see statistically significant differences in populations and identify how these findings add value beyond the intended purpose for this project. These insights support and promote data-driven decision-making on land use and resource allocation at the granular level. And, this is something I love about city planning – attention to citizen preferences merged with sophisticated data provides accountability to citizens (and their tax dollars) and enhances the quality of life.
Our Mapleton department leaders are not new to these principles; rather, it’s my recent opportunity to use my previous experience to learn and contribute. Data is abundant at our city building and I just am fortunate to get to “play” with it! Therefore, while I’m not going to go through my 16 hours of analysis, I wanted to share some insights I’ve discovered from this data set that are also actionable. The notes I’m sharing refer to statistically significant data (α = . 05 for the stats nerds out there) from the scientific survey. The findings tell our story and reveal truths through numbers. I’d also like to provoke some reflection, so you’ll see some questions posed to our citizens – after all, we’re in this together! Please share with me you’re a-ha moments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
a. If you are 35-44, you will allocate more resources to parks, trails, and open spaces than roads and sidewalks.
b. If you are 65+, you will allocate more resources to roads than to parks, trails, and open spaces and sidewalks.
c. Younger citizens are most interested in library and high-speed internet investments.
d. Citizens 65+ are more interested in and see a greater need for smaller lot sizes (1/4 – ½ acre) than any other age group.
Questions: Are you surprised to see that 65+ citizens are more interested in smaller lots than other age groups? How does age affect infrastructure use and are there implications for taxes and fees?
Years in Mapleton Matter
a. The longer you’ve lived here, the more dissatisfaction you have about the preservation of the character and open space. You’re also less interested in high-speed internet or on varieties of conditional use permit options.
b. Residents of 3-5 years support grocery and restaurant development more than those of 11+ years.
Questions: How does witnessing change affect satisfaction or quality of life? Are there any barriers to bridge between our lifelong residents and newer residents?
Your Bias is Showing (Lot Size Matters)
a. Whatever your lot size, that’s what you think we should have more of in the future.
b. Those on less than ¼ acre are more satisfied with open space than those on ½ acre or more.
c. If you’re on a ¼ acre, you are more supportive of multi-family housing and more varieties of housing.
d. Those on smaller lots want to allocate resources to park upgrades while those on larger lots are more interested in agricultural space.
e. If you’re on a large lot (> 2 acres), you’ve most likely lived here for over 21 years.
Questions: Are you able to accept that your own perspective is not reflective of the entire population? What implications to parks and rec amenities exist between neighborhoods of smaller lot sizes and those with larger lot sizes?
Your Household Matters
a. Got kids in your home? You’re happier than those with no kids about the preservation of character.
b. No kids? You’re more interested in economic development than those with two kids are.
c. Got four kids? You want high-speed internet more than those with two kids do.
d. Got 3-4 kids? You want more sidewalks than those with no kids. You also want neighborhood linkage to trails more than those with no kids do.
Questions: Does the make-up of a neighborhood (kids vs. no kids) inform the city of where to prioritize certain projects based upon citizen preferences? Would we be wise to consider this in adding sidewalks and connecting trails closest to areas with large populations of kids before extending to areas with fewer children? Would there need to be an equitable balance of services provided to those who would prefer road improvements to trails?
Your Region Matters. Sometimes.
a. Region proved insignificant for the majority of the survey items; however, there are some interesting differences particularly between the northwest and southwest regions of the city. (The northwest is interested in smaller lots. (They recommend 72% of the future housing is a half-acre or less (including 18% a 1/4 acre or less). The southwest is interested in larger lots. The northwest doesn’t care as much about agricultural open spaces and doesn’t want to fund natural open spaces as much as the southwest.
b. We know from the parks geographic equity analysis that our biggest parks gap is in the northeast, but we know from the residents’ feedback they don’t necessarily want a new park. They’d rather preserve open space and upgrade existing amenities. However, the northwest would fund parks, facilities, and trails more than any other region.
Questions: What implications do we have when considering both best practices of city planning (e.g., park equity) along with citizen preferences (e.g., park interest)? Are you surprised that there aren’t more significant gaps in preferences by region?
Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share? Email me at email@example.com! Also, make sure you’re following OurMapleton.org to stay current on the planning process – and invite your neighbors to do the same! Follow the City Council on Facebook for ongoing updates, too – Jessica Egbert, Leslie Jones, Therin Garrett.