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School board not yet convinced about Heber City revitalization plan

Heber City Councilmembers
Heber City Councilmembers Aaron Cheatwood and Mike Johnston presented to the Wasatch County Board of Education Tuesday.

Heber City councilmembers pitched the Wasatch County Board of Education on their plans to revitalize downtown. But the district isn’t quite ready to chip in to help pay for the plan.

City leaders have a plan to enliven downtown Heber, and they want support from other local entities to help make it happen.

On Tuesday, April 23, councilmembers presented their vision for the community reinvestment area at the school board’s study session. The presentation was similar to one given to the Wasatch County Council last month.

Heber wants to use a tax increment funding model to pay for projects it says will help make the downtown area more vibrant and profitable.

Under that model, the district will keep the tax dollars it currently brings in. But for any new growth in the area, it must dedicate most of its taxes to the reinvestment area for 20 years. When that time is up, the district will start collecting the entire new tax increment.

Councilmember Aaron Cheatwood said it’s to the district’s advantage to invest in the plan.

“We think there’s an opportunity to increase the tax base without increasing the workload: to bring more revenue and more tax dollars without bringing more student headcount,” he said, “because that’s not the type of redevelopment… that we think is going to happen in this downtown zone specifically.”

The tax increment funding model applies only to new growth in the project area.
Heber City
The tax increment funding model applies only to new growth in the project area.

And Councilmember Mike Johnston emphasized the risk sits with the city, not with the school district, if growth doesn’t take off as anticipated.

“The school district is not writing a check for a single dollar,” he said. “You’re not giving up anything that you already have, and you’re taking no risk. The city’s taking the loan out, and… it’s on us to make it work.”

But as the discussion revealed, there’s still some bad blood between the council and the school board that leaves the district hesitant to sign on to the city’s plan.

School board member Tom Hansen said city leaders were critical of the district's plan to invest in a second high school back in 2022, so he’s frustrated they’re now asking for the school board’s support.

“It was hard for us to do that and then see elected officials publicly say, ‘What are you guys doing?’” he said. “You were against us to the tune of $100 million. That’s a fact.”

But board president Tyler Bluth commented he’s glad to see the city has a plan to make downtown better.

“I grew up here, and there’s never been a plan,” he said. “We’ve got a plan, and it’s good to see…. Let bygones be bygones, and let’s get to work.”

It’s not the first time the city council has asked the school district to help with the project, and neither party’s arguments have materially changed. Heber made a similar pitch in 2021 – when the district declined to sign on because of its plans for a second high school – and again last October.

It remains to be seen whether the third time will prove the charm: for now, the two entities will put another conversation on the calendar.

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