As the Mayor of Heber City, I am happy to see a lot of meaningful discussion surrounding growth and annexation in Wasatch County. These are important decisions that will impact the future of our valley for decades. I appreciate residents becoming educated about these complex issues.
ANNEXATION OPTIONS TO CONSIDER
Heber City recently adopted a new annexation policy plan—a plan that could appear to be alarming without proper context. The annexation area includes a significant amount of land in the North Village area near the UVU Wasatch Campus. Over the past couple of decades, the Wasatch County Council—acting as the land-use authority—has granted a certain level of density to the area known as the North Village. With this vested density, the land owners may pursue one of three paths: (1) remain in the unincorporated area of Wasatch County and develop with the already-granted density, (2) annex into Heber City with the same level of density, or (3) band together to create a new city altogether.
As the Mayor of Heber City, I believe it is imperative that we carefully consider the impact these developments will have on Heber City and ultimately on our entire valley. In 26 of the 29 counties in Utah, people who want to develop are required to annex into an existing city and utilize existing municipal services. Wasatch County is unique in that special service districts provide services like sewer and water so people can develop urban-like areas in the county.
While I respect the judgement and decisions of previous county officials, I believe Heber City needs to address the realities it faces today while having a long-term vision for its future. Since the North Village area has already been granted development rights, and the necessary infrastructure to develop, we must evaluate our options and make the best choices possible.
When landowners want to annex into the city, they must first be included in the city’s annexation policy plan. If the landowners decide to apply for annexation, they must provide some initial information to the city council which votes whether to let them move forward to be considered for annexation. As part of the process the petitioning landowner pays fees that are used to provide the needed information that is studied by the planning commission and city council. Once the planning commission and staff are satisfied that the developer has met the legal requirements, they vote to deny or accept the application or recommend it to the city council. At that point the proposed annexation goes back to the city council for a final vote.
One of the reasons I feel so strongly that large areas of urban development should be in a city is because of equitable taxation. Heber City residents pay the same amount of county taxes as county residents. If I have a $300,000 home in Heber City and a $300,000 home in the North Village, I will pay the same amount of property taxes to the county. If I live in Heber City, I will also pay city taxes to pay for police, planning, parks, cemetery, public works, roads, etc. If this area develops in the county the residents will pay fewer total property tax dollars than residents in the city with a house of equal value.
If landowners decide to create their own city, Heber City will compete for sales tax dollars. If we look at cities on the Wasatch Front, it is clear this might not be a financial win for taxpayers. Cities competing for tax dollars often provide incentives to businesses to be part of their sales tax base. They provide land or sales tax rebates to incentivize business development in their city.
PROTECTING THE TAYPAYER
Approximately 50% of Wasatch County’s 32,000 residents live in Heber. However, Heber City residents don’t provide 50% of the property taxes as the city has more primary residences which only pay 55 % of the taxable value of a home (whereas Wasatch County has more second homeowners who pay 100% of the taxable value of a home). There are also more homes with lower values in the city.
My greatest concern as the Mayor of Heber City is to protect the taxpayers of the city and to ensure that the city’s long-term economic interests are protected. As you join us in considering these complex issues, remember that growth will occur in the North Village area—regardless of whether it annexes into Heber City or not. Please contact your elected representatives to share your thoughts on how Heber City can best plan for the future.