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!
For several weeks, an increasing amount of time in my visits with Mapleton residents has been occupied by discussions regarding the state of water in our City. Conversation topics included the following: pressurized irrigation (PI), ditch irrigation, culinary water, water rights, adequacy of water, water pressure, water sources, ponds, wells, Hobble Creek usage, recreational water, water conservation, water equity, cost of water, water regulations, water metering, water mapping, certificated water, Strawberry water, water deeding, Mapleton Water District ownership versus Mapleton City ownership, investing in water, independent pressurized systems, water zones, and the list goes on. (Seriously. This was just off the top of my head. Hang in there, there is a bullet list coming up!)
I’m pretty sure you get my point on this one.
Realizing my C+ understanding of our complex water issues was inadequate, I sought City Engineer Steven Lord. Now, if you haven’t met Steven Lord, you’re missing out. Like the other City employees with whom I’ve spoken, he is a delightful mix of approachability and expertise. A quick wit and underlying humility quickly endeared me to him and, as such, he has been the unfortunate recipient of likely far-too-many emails (honorable mentions also go to Camille Brown, Cory Branch, and Sean Conroy).
Like Drinking from a Fire Hose
After organizing my thoughts, I spent another hour with Steven this week for a crash course in Mapleton water. The most important thing I’d share with citizens is that the City completed in October 2018 and externally-contracted Water Resources Master Plan. Basically, this is a 74 page document that tells us the history, current state, and future needs to ensure water adequacy through build-out (estimated at about 29,000 residents in 2016). The report is found on the Mapleton City Public Works website or, directly, here. However, after meeting with Steven and reviewing the report, I’m going to translate some highlights into a Cliffs Notes version that will hopefully provide some education and direct questions to existing resources.
20 Things I Learned About Water This Week
- We have a current Water Master Plan. The Plan provides recommendations to correct deficiencies, improve connectivity, and expand the systems to accommodate growth. There are great long-term strategies reaching six years, 10 years, and through total buildout (anticipated 2061).
- Mapleton Water District and Mapleton City are not the same. The District gets the PI water, the City delivers it to citizens.
- Our culinary system is good. It is “…in good condition and provides adequate pressures in accordance with the requirements of UAC R309-510.” (Bonus: Fire suppression flows and pressures also meet requirements.)
- Recent changes on water rights distribution = good for some people. Historically, water rights have been tied to an exact geographic pinpoint; new regulations give water rights to a broader area. This can be good for people who want to develop their own land by providing more flexibility to the development at a cost savings.
- Dry pipe – it’s in there. Dry pipe for pressurized irrigation has been required of developers since 1998.
- Bye, bye canals. To improve water conservation and in conjunction with planned development, the Plan recommends elimination of the canal/ditch system and flood irrigation over time.
- Minimum requirements cover big houses. The minimum requirement for residential fire flow and residential development is 2000 gpm, which covers up to a 6200 square foot home.
- We meet PSI requirements. Subdivisions developed after January 1, 2007 are required to have at least 40 psi during peak day demand; we meet and exceed that.
- Changing to PI may require updated sprinkler systems. Not enough pressure to your sprinklers? Try updating your sprinkler system to heads appropriate for PI.
- PI and gravity aren’t friends. We have a lot of hillsides we can’t develop and 355 developable acres on the east bench that are too high for the City’s pressurized irrigation; they’ll have to stay on culinary water. (There are about 230 acres elsewhere that can’t connect to the City’s PI either.)
- Get the PI done, but it might take a decade. The master plan repeatedly emphasizes the importance of completing the pressurized irrigation project – “If the pressurized irrigation system is not fully developed according to the recommendations of this report, the culinary system will need to provide additional water for outdoor uses. For this reason, timely and full development of the proposed pressurized irrigation system is critical to the success of the culinary water system as analyzed in this master plan.”
- Developers must bring water to the table. Mapleton City Code (17.24.080) is where the City requires developers to dedicate water rights to the City adequate to satisfy anticipated water needs of a proposed development. This MUST be sustained to ensure sufficient water.
- More sources, please. New sources of water are needed to increase reliability and address growth, including wells, which should begin the approvals processes immediately (approvals take a while). A storage reservoir and a new water source to supply the reservoir were recommended for Harmony Ridge/Mapleton Village/Twin Hollow/Preserve.
- Emergency storage is good… for now. If PI isn’t built-out, additional storage will be required to provide emergency storage (even if the emergency storage isn’t mandated by the State, it’s our goal to have it for at least a day; the pond holds two days of peak storage requirements already). Keep the bond full for a storage buffer!
- Bigger, better pipes. There are lots of specific recommendations to increase existing pipe sizes and increase future size requirements.
- Salamanders suck. Salamanders and algae are messing up the PI pumps and plugging filters. Fixing the issues is difficult, but would save on maintenance and increase stability. Large-month bass, aeration, and chemical algaecides are potential considerations. (Maybe we should rethink that old hatchery initiative!)
- PI priorities are trunk lines. The “trunks” include priority buildouts by 2024 of Maple, Slant, 800 S, 1600 S, 800 W and by 2018 of 1600 W, 800 W, Main, 1200 N, Dogwood/1200 E/800 E/1100 S, and 1600 S. (The lack of adequate trunk lines is why we can’t get over to Harvest Park – there isn’t enough pressure or flow in what we currently have in our narrow pipes.)
- Details, details, details. Priorities, timelines, and costs are provided on pages 61-66.
- Priorities may change. The plan gives priority recommendations, but also cautions us to consider the priorities as the situations change.
- Show me the money. None of this will happen without funding. We’re currently maintaining our systems adequately – our rates cover our expenses – but we can’t grow services without additional capital (even existing matching grants would require we have skin in the game – we don’t have it). Bonding and fees are the quickest way to cash, both are common practices, but are highly controversial. (Perhaps if we can diversify our funding sources with additional commercial development in appropriate areas, statewide tax reform, and reallocating funds from high property taxes to water investments, the citizens can end up with a net zero without bonding or fees. A girl can dream, right?)
After meetings and research, I’d like to think my Mapleton Water 101 grade is now at least a B+. I hope this information has been helpful for you as well – don’t forget to check out the awesome maps below, too (click to get to the larger files)!
Disclaimer: Please refer to the Plan itself and consult with your personal engineer to validate accuracy of these statements. Better yet, give Steven a visit. (You’ll definitely learn something – and enjoy it!)