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Fiscal impact studies one way to evaluate November ballot initiative

Nov 03, 2017 02:55PM ● Published by Becca Ketelsleger

The Terms of Office information presented at the Aug. 9 city council meeting shows that the mayor elected in 2017 would be entitled to an additional two years of salary once the new “strong mayor” is elected in 2020. (City of West Jordan)

After years and years of debate, a question regarding a potential change of government for West Jordan will finally be making it to the ballot in November. 

The two options will be to remain with the current form of government (the Council–Manager form) or to adopt a new form of government (the Council–Mayor form). 

“I think it’s up to the residents to decide how they want to be governed,” said Councilman Chris McConnehey at the Aug. 9 city council meeting where council members decided the question would appear on the ballot. 

A constant theme that ran throughout the evening was that the residents deserved to have a say in the form of government, as well as to have access to information regarding the government change proposed. 

This was seen both in the presentation by the Ad Hoc Committee bringing forth a recommendation to not change the city’s form of goverment, and with Councilman Chad Nichol’s speech regarding the background of the Council–Manager form of government and how legislation needs to change at the state level to make it a recognized form of government once more. 

Another tool for residents to learn more about the potential government change lies with studies done the last two times this conversation arose, particularly those looking at the financial impact a change of government could have. 

Fiscal impact studies were completed by the city’s Budget Officer in both 2005 and 2014.

The method behind the two studies was identical. In both, three cities with similar populations that operated under the Council–Mayor form of government (Ogden, Provo and Sandy) were examined. An average budget amount for the related staff members (the mayor and support staff, other chief operating officers and support staff, and city council) was determined, and then compared to the budget for the West Jordan staff in the Council–Manager form of government. 

In 2005, it found that the average budget for related staff under the Council–Mayor form of government was $1,212,259. In 2015, it was averaged at $1,712,737. 

In West Jordan, under the Council–Manager form of government, the costs were much lower—$794,265 in 2005 and $841,909 in 2015. 

“The budget officer estimates that the law proposed by this initiative would result in a total annual fiscal expense of $850,000,” reads the opening page of the 2014 report.

This increase would be met through an increase in property taxes. 

While the 2005 report states that the increase of $461,936.60 annually (at that time) would result in “$15.57 annual tax increase to the owner of a $ 175,000 home,” the 2014 report doesn’t address the issue specifically. 

In addition to this annual increase of $850,000 per year in expenses, the cost of switching is estimated to be higher the first year due to several one-time expenses.

Smaller expenses include providing office furniture for new staff, printing of informational products regarding the change and the changing of the city code. 

“The primary potential one-time cost would be a termination payment for an existing city manager (a conservative estimate would be $72,610—six months of the most-recent city manager’s salary) in the event that the existing city manager would not be offered a continuing role in the administrative staff,” notes the 2014 report.

However, the largest expense would come from the timing of the ballot initiative.

With the ballot issue appearing in 2017 (the same year as a mayoral election), if the change of government happens, the newly elected mayor would only be able to serve a two-year term (2018–2020) instead of the ordinary four-year term. In 2020, a new mayor would need to be elected along with the implementation of a new form of government, because it would be an entirely new position (a strong mayor). 

The caveat is that, according to the terms of office posted at the Aug. 9 city council meeting, the prior mayor would “still be paid for the remainder of the term, if he/she does not hold a compensated position in the new form of government.” 

With a mayoral salary of $89,500 per year listed in the 2017–2018 proposed budget, the one-time cost of the change could be considered more significant. 

There has been much discussion regarding these potential costs both in city council and on social media, including some mention that both current mayoral candidates have vowed not to accept the additional two-year salary if offered.

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