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West Valley City Journal

So far, so good say councilmembers, mayor about first year in office

Nov 03, 2022 08:14PM ● By Darrell Kirby

By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]

William Whetstone

Another Tuesday rolls around and William Whetstone heads to West Valley City Hall to attend the city council’s afternoon study meeting followed by the evening council meeting.

As a member of the city council for nearly a year, the weekly routine along with other meetings and council tasks is anything but a grind. “I wouldn’t say I’m giddy, but I’m pretty excited to go to city hall and take care of business,” Whetstone said. “It’s been better than expected.”

The 30-year resident of West Valley City was appointed by the council in late 2021 to fill the remainder of the term of District 3 councilwoman Karen Lang, who was elected mayor. Whetstone was previously on the West Valley City Board of Adjustment for eight years, which gave him a taste of what being city councilman would be like. 

The main issue brought up by constituents during his 10 months in office? “City code and ordinances,” Whetstone replied. “Some residents think we should do more (enforcement) and some think the city is overstepping a little bit. It’s an interesting balance, one that I don’t know that I have the answer for.” Code enforcement is mainly the act of enforcing ordinances regarding property upkeep for health, safety and aesthetic purposes. Some residents say a heavy-handed approach infringes on private property rights. Others say lax enforcement contributes to a decline in property values and neighborhood quality of life.

Another big part of the job is helping to put together the city budget. “Some of the decisions have been harder than I thought,” Whetstone said of the process. He wrestled with a 9% property tax increase proposed for the fiscal year 2023 budget that took effect July 1 of this year. “I really struggled with that.” He ultimately voted for the tax hike, citing the needs of the growing city, like competitive pay for police and fire employees. “It was something that needed to be done.”

“It’s really been far more than expected. I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed it,” Whetstone said. He is planning to run for a full term in 2023 while balancing his full-time job as director of community development at UBS Bank in Salt Lake City and part-time enlistment in the Utah Air National Guard.

Scott Harmon

A nearly lifelong resident of West Valley City, Scott Harmon decided in 2021 it was time to give back to his hometown by running for city council. The political newcomer converted that desire into a victory for the District 2 seat vacated by Steve Buhler, who lost his bid for mayor.

“It’s been great,” Harmon said of his nearly one year on the council. He pointed to the experience of learning firsthand the inner workings of municipal government, including West Valley City’s annual budget approaching $100 million. “It’s been a lot of fun to learn those things.”

Like with Whetstone, Harmon cited code enforcement issues as being among the top concerns expressed by his constituents. Some say it’s too much, others say not enough. Drivers speeding through neighborhoods is another frequent complaint. He’s also heard from residents about taxes and spending, especially as the city adopted a property tax hike of 9% this year to cover increasing costs like public safety salary increases. Harmon, however, voted against the property tax increase. “I wanted to find other ways within the budget to manage those costs."

Harmon says diving into the day-to-day details of city operations and interacting with residents has only increased his fondness for West Valley City. “I’ve always loved the city. I think it’s helped me love it even more,” he said.

As for his family, Harmon says they have been supportive of the time required of his city council duties on top of his regular employment as a program manager for Utah Housing Corporation and a real estate broker. “In some ways (the time commitment) is more than I thought and in some ways it’s less than I thought.”

“They understand I have this responsibility and this duty,” he added.

Karen Lang

The transition to mayor has been relatively smooth for Karen Lang. She was already in the thick of city government thanks to 10 years on the city council representing District 3 and her time before that on the planning commission gave her experience on the development issues that frequently come before the city council. She also exchanges ideas on municipal projects with other mayors through her involvement on the Wasatch Front Regional Council and is vice chair of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District Board of Trustees, a big supplier of water to cities in Salt Lake County. 

“It’s been pretty much like I expected,” said Lang, who has lived in West Valley City for 40 years and owns Oakbridge Greenhouse with her husband, Brian. “I’m feeling a lot more comfortable.”

She added that 2022 so far has been relatively controversy-free other than some property owners questioning the need for the property tax increase.

“I’ve been very privileged to meet some awesome people and residents as well,” she said. West Valley City’s first female mayor says she has been pleased with the polite way constituents have approached her with issues and problems. “I hear from other mayors (about) the discourse (with) their residents and I’m so pleased that ours are just so civil. We can have good conversations and still be friends,” she said.

Lang praised that same sense of courteousness and civility among her colleagues on the city council as they tackle the issues of the day. 

“I love West Valley,” Lang said. “It’s just a wonderful place to live.”