Retiring City Councilman bestows a B+ grade on City Hall’s finances |

Retiring City Councilman bestows a B+ grade on City Hall’s finances

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

Joe Kernan on many occasions during his eight years as a Park City Councilman was a lone voice among the four other City Councilors and the mayor.

It was most evident in financial matters. Kernan sometimes pressed budgetary issues when it seemed that the others had reached agreement. Repeatedly questioning City Hall’s compensation strategy was among his notable departures from the consensus on the City Council.

Even so, the retiring City Councilman gives City Hall’s finances high marks as he prepares to leave office. In a December interview just hours prior to his final City Council meeting, Kernan said City Hall’s financial situation deserves a B+ grade on an A-to-F scale.

Broken down further, City Hall’s revenues score an A- while the expenses grade a B+, according to Kernan. He said City Hall maintained a solid revenue stream through the recession, the reason for the high mark.

"From year to year, we’ve seen continued growth in revenues and expenses," Kernan said.

He counts one budgetary matter, altering the way City Hall salaries are set, as being among the items he was not able to accomplish during his two terms. Kernan said he had hoped to win enough support to cap increases in personnel costs at a level close to inflation.

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He lists the failure to institute a cap alongside his inability to convince others to re-explore the idea of a gondola connecting Main Street with Empire Pass as the two most noteworthy parts of his agenda he was not able to accomplish.

"I sensed frustration and a lot of push back," Kernan said, adding that he "questioned the credibility of numbers and different policies and positions of the city."

He sometimes came to City Council meetings carrying the results of his own research into City Hall’s finances. Some of the other elected officials occasionally appeared weary as he described his results.

Kernan, who is 49 years old and resides in Prospector, has lived in Park City since 1993. He owns Good Earth Recycling and holds a 50 percent stake in County Curbside, Inc., which is another recycling firm. He won his first term in 2003 as a City Hall outsider.

He was re-elected in 2007, but he did not run for re-election in November, saying that he supported the platforms of some of the others on the ballot and he did not want to mount his own campaign.

Kernan sees some of his accomplishments as including balancing the City Hall budget without a property-tax increase even as staffers wanted one considered as well as improving Park City’s pedestrian and bicycling corridors.

He is especially pleased with the pedestrian and bicyclist upgrades over the past eight years. Voters during his time in officer approved a ballot measure to fund the improvements, including the construction of pedestrian bicyclist tunnels underneath Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard.

"I think the community is committed to a healthy lifestyle. This makes it a lot safer for everyone to move about town on bicycles, walking, skateboarding," Kernan said.

He noted that the improvements financed through the ballot measure make it possible for a pedestrian or bicyclist to move between Main Street and the Park City School District campus on Kearns Boulevard without crossing a major street at street level.

"This community, if it’s vocal, can accomplish a lot," he said.

Kernan is leaving office during what appears to be the start of the final round of discussions between City Hall and the Treasure partnership about a solution for the project. He has been in office throughout all the City Council-level discussions about the project.

He envisions the outcome involving an agreement that calls for a smaller project at the Treasure site itself, located on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift, and other development rights tied to the Treasure land being shifted to a spot uphill from the Park City Mountain Resort base area. The arrangement would not require taxpayer money being spent, he said.

The long-running Treasure discussions have pitted people on streets like Empire Avenue and Lowell Avenue against the developer. Kernan hopes there is eventually agreement between the various sides.

"Whether it be the Israelis and Palestinians or a developer and a neighborhood next to it, we generally try to maximize our own interests and do not respect the interests of our neighbor," Kernan said. "In the end, we need to pay attention to the Golden Rule . . . love your neighbor."