Salt Lake County officials were happy to bail out Cottonwood Heights this time, coming to the rescue last week when the season's first storms overwhelmed the city's new private snowplow contractor.
But the valley's municipalities can't count on the county always being there to resolve such messes, County Council members said Tuesday.
"I don't want to see the cities have the expectation we'll be there to pick up the pieces if they screw up," said Councilman Jim Bradley. "They can't make bad decisions and always have us there to pick up the pieces."
In winters past, the county had assigned 11 plows to clear Cottonwood Height's streets of snow. But this year, the city dropped its affiliation with the county and signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with Terracare, which has offices in Colorado and California, to plow streets and do other street projects.
When the first storm hit Dec. 3, Terracare's response was anemic, County Public Works Director Russ Wall reported to the County Council. Only half as many snowplows hit the streets as were needed early on. Part of heavily traveled Fort Union Boulevard. shut down temporarily. Thick ice built up on many side streets.
In response to a request for help from Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore, the county agreed to provide four trucks to clear the main streets for the weekend storm that followed, and to provide heavy equipment to break up the ice.
"We did," Wall said, "because it was a safety issue."
But after the major streets were cleared, he added that the county rejected a request from Cottonwood Heights to send the plows into the eastside community's hardpacked subdivisions.
Wall declined because the plows were needed back in the west-side neighborhoods they came from, communities covered by several inches of snow as well. There were some delays in clearing those neighborhoods, he acknowledged.
The diversion did not please County Councilman Michael Jensen, who represents Magna and Kearns.
"I want to help our neighbors. I love Cottonwood Heights. But I don't want to see my area short-changed," he said. "My residents pay property and sales taxes [for these services]. I don't want us taking a back seat to anybody. … I want to be able to look my residents in the eye and say we didn't prioritize Cottonwood Heights over you."
"That will be the message I take to Mayor Cullimore when we meet next Tuesday," Wall responded, after the mayor confers more with Terracare about the future.
Requiring all of this outside assistance will be costly for Cottonwood Heights, Wall added, citing bills from the county for roughly $20,000 for personnel, use of equipment and salt.
County adopts 2014 budget
With no tax increase proposed, Salt Lake County's $870 million budget for 2014 sailed through a Tuesday public hearing attended by only one citizen.
The County Council then finalized adoption of the budget, which closely paralleled Mayor Ben McAdams' original proposal. McAdams called the budget "fiscally responsible," said it encourages county agencies to be more efficient and also enables the county to "position itself as a regional government that can lead for the greater good of the whole Salt Lake Valley."
In addition, county employees will receive a 2.5 percent pay increase and the final restoration of benefits cut because of the Great Recession.
The council voted unanimously for the budget, but only after a partisan squabble over $54,000 in funding for a part-time employee to help with the county's open-space program.
The Democrats prevailed in keeping the position funded, winning a 4-3 vote because two Republican council members, David Wilde and Richard Snelgrove, were absent.