Now that the SAA has been approved in Brigham City and construction can start, we can expect that the same model will be executed in other member cities to help build out the infrastructure. Even neighborhoods not in member cities could get in on the action if they were so inclined. Even with how successful it was overall, I still have some reservations.
We’ve seen that the Utah Taxpayers Association is willing to play dirty to try and derail any efforts to expand the network. They will, no doubt, inject themselves into any future SAA attempts just like they did in Brigham City. Their curious timing in Brigham City resulted in a mass mailing after the time to leave or join the SAA had passed. While it did get a few residents up in arms (a scant 4% of the SAA participants, I would note), it did not have any practical effect on the SAA. It was still executed, the interest rate was still low, and there were no changes in the number of participants. What the UTA accomplished was generating a lot of undeserved negative press for UTOPIA that they can then use in the future.
UTOPIA can deflate that UTA advantage, however, by making sure that sales staff more thoroughly explain the inner workings of an SAA. The UTA took control of the conversation by taking what is possible and portraying it as probable. The truth of the matter is that a city is highly unlikely to exercise the option to foreclose on a home to collect a few thousand dollars of bond money. It would cost more to pursue the necessary legal action than the lien is worth, generate substantial negative press, and likely drive a tax-paying resident out of the city. Once residents understand that, the UTA’s faslehoods carry no more weight.
More concerning, though, is the time and effort required to complete even a small SAA. Brigham City is a scant 5600 homes and it took a dedicated sales staff several months to get just under the 30% participation rate needed to execute it. How long would it take in a larger participating city like Orem with over 23,300 homes? It could take a year or more to meet the participation level required to execute the SAA. Many of those homes are not currently taking service. Knocking on all of those doors will take a lot of time, even if UTOPIA’s outsourced marketing hired a bunch of new staff. With the stakes so high, the opposition from the UTA and incumbents would get even more fierce making the job much more difficult, especially with the lien kerfuffle.
The point I’m trying to make is that expecting UTOPIA to do the job alone isn’t going to cut it. If you live in the proposed SAA and want service, you need to talk to your friends and neighbors about it. Cities are going to have to cowboy up and take a more active role in this project. (As of right now, only three of the pledging cities even have a link to UTOPIA on their homepage.) Making it someone else’s problem is not going to cut it because <em>it’s your problem</em>. UTOPIA isn’t going to have sufficient system revenues to build for a long time. Stimulus money isn’t going to do a whole lot to change that. Cities and their residents own this baby and it’s time to act like it.
Now is the time to start laying the groundwork for future SAAs and you need to drive it. Start getting people to register their interest in service on UTOPIA’s website. Explain how the SAA works including the legally-required lien portion if you finance it. One way or another, you’re going to pay for the network; don’t you want to at least get some service out of it?