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Community gathers in Cottonwood Heights to discuss budget cuts

Posted at 10:13 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-09 00:13:42-04

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah - The Cottonwood Heights City Council passed a tentative budget proposal for the 2018-2019 fiscal year Tuesday, which includes a controversial list of cuts and layoffs.

Several citizens voiced opinions, concerns, and frustrations ahead of the vote.

According to Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Peterson, the initial budget request came in at $2 million over what the city could afford. He said some of that was due to $850,000 needed for critical road improvements and another $205,000 to account for changes in the way Unified Fire Authority charges for their services.

Meanwhile, revenues for the city are leveling out, he said.

The council asked for a balanced budget. It came back balanced, but Peterson said it meant an impact to many departments like police, fire, public works and the arts.

"We will eliminate bits and pieces in every department," Peterson said.

A number of citizens questioned the reason for the $2 million shortfall.

"Where were these decisions made to put the city in such a fiscal crisis?" resident Ed Schwartz asked during public comment.

Others shared the same sentiments.

"It makes me wonder how we're managing our city," said resident Jen Fredrickson.

"Now suddenly we have this huge gap in money, that just came out of nowhere," expressed concerned citizen Erika Cunningham, who later added, "after 13 years, you'd think we would have our crap together."

"We're calling for losing people in this city, that we just put in a couple of years ago," Schwartz said.

The tentative budget calls for cutting a handful of jobs in the city, including: The assistant city manager, four police officers, one police support staff, public relations employee, events coordinator, arts council coordinator, and reducing the crew at one fire station from four to three per shift.

"Even though you're... reducing one position at the station, it actually ends up being about 3.6 people," Peterson explained, of the firefighters.

Unified Fire Authority said previously that doesn't necessarily mean firefighters would see layoffs. They might instead be able to transfer to other stations or work within UFA.

Under this tentative budget proposal, the city would eliminate funding for Butlerville Days starting in 2019, all arts council events and plays past August, the Cottonwood Heights Business Association and an engineering contract.

"Things like Bark in the Park, Easter egg hunts-- a whole variety of things... could be jeopardized," Peterson said.

During the council meeting Tuesday night, some citizens urged the council to hold off on cuts, whether in the police and fire departments or events and arts programs.
"Butlerville Days definitely is like the biggest city event, that brings people together," said resident Kathryn Cunningham.

Other citizens brainstormed ideas on how to make slashes in other areas or raise revenue.

"I'd rather have some pay cuts across salaries a little bit," Fredrickson said.

Peterson said it's important to remember this is the tentative budget that they'll take weeks to finalize.

"Many changes will take place over the next four or five weeks," he said.

He said in the 13-year history of the city, they've never raised taxes. Peterson said they might have to take a serious look at that in the future.

During a presentation on Tuesday evening, the city saw a list of possible resources to look at for future revenue including a telecommunication fee, property tax increase, stormwater fee and road improvement fee.

The Cottonwood Heights council is expected to make a final vote on the budget on June 19.