As he stood before Millcreek residents Wednesday night at the city’s first birthday celebration, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams couldn’t help but remember how different his previous encounter with the group had been.
“The last time I stood in front of a group of Millcreek residents this large, it was in 2014 and they were all yelling at me,” he said. “So it’s great to be back in a celebratory occasion.”
The years of divisive back-and-forth on the issue of whether Millcreek should incorporate — characterized by what McAdams recalled as “protests, yelling and screaming” — were resolved in 2015, when residents voted to become Salt Lake County’s 17th municipality.
That vision came to fruition in the last days of December 2016, and the city’s event Wednesday looked to celebrate all that has come since.
“I think what we see here tonight — nobody is yelling at us, first of all — but the vision and desires of the people of Millcreek, you are forming a city and it is taking shape in a way that is exciting,” McAdams said to the crowd. “I’m happy to be a part of it.”
The event was well attended by residents and local officials alike, including Salt Lake County Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton, Councilman Sam Granato, District Attorney Sim Gill and state Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek.
Attendees could enjoy live music, food, face painting and more and could walk across the street to view the new Millcreek City Hall after a short ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The council had previously been occupying a temporary workspace in the Mt. Olympus Improvement District, where it held weekly meetings in a small conference room with metal folding chairs that Councilwoman Cheri Jackson supplied.
Now, the council has its own offices at 3330 South 1300 E. — this time with furniture donated by Cottonwood Heights.
For its first six months, the council had $4 million in revenue. That tight starting budget meant the council had to get creative over the past year, and furniture choices are just one example.
Council members worked for free for the first seven months of their tenure and agreed not to seek retroactive pay when they set their annual compensation packages in July. Leslie Silvestrini, the mayor’s wife, created the city’s website, and the council has relied on free contact with residents, through email and social media, rather than through mailers.
Voters rejected an incorporation movement in 2012, with opponents raising concerns about increased taxes and a loss of service. But with the help of neighboring municipalities and the county, Millcreek’s Council thinks it has met those challenges head-on.
“We have kept our promise,” Jackson said. “We’ve been able to [create a city] with the money we collected. We’ve been able to keep the services as they are. Nobody has lost services. And yet we’ve been able to expand and add more to what we’re able to do because we are in control of our own tax dollars.”
The council exited the Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Service Area (SLVLESA) last year and contracted with the Unified Police Department, which Mayor Jeff Silvestrini said Wednesday has enabled the city to now add seven more police officers for the same cost as former services.
Silvestrini also announced that Millcreek will implement the before-and-after school Promise program within the city this year. He hopes the programs will strengthen and support local schools, maximize students’ academic success, create a safer community and bridge the gap between the west and east sides of the city.
“We have a lot of divides in Millcreek, and one of the things that we pledged when we were elected is to build a city, build community and heal divides,” Silvestrini said.
Residents Richard and Janelle Williamson, who were involved with the incorporation movement and attended the anniversary celebration, said they’re happy with the direction the city is moving in so far.
“We have wanted to feel like [Millcreek] had an identity,” Janelle Williamson said. “Being lost in the county was a little … it felt like we didn’t have our own identity just being in the county. And we wanted to keep things more local — local decision-making especially.”
In the future, they hope to see sidewalks near Eastwood Elementary School in order to improve safety for their children. But they realize it won’t happen overnight.
“It’s step by step,” Richard Williamson said. “It’s hard starting from scratch like we’ve done, but I think [the council has] come very far. They’ve made more progress than I anticipated in this first year.”
Reflecting on what he called an “event-filled” year, Silvestrini, a former attorney, said the hardest and most rewarding aspect of building a new city has been stepping into unfamiliar and uncharted territory.
“There’s no owner’s manual,” he said. “You have to invent the city that you want.”