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Heber City Council Takes Up COVID-19 Aid and Lighted Signage, Moves Banner Vote to August 18

Heber Valley Elementary School

At a lengthy Heber City Council meeting on Tuesday, what to do with the city’s first round of CARES act funding and the effects of business signage on Heber’s light pollution were both topics of discussion.


The Heber City Council voted to accept nearly $1.5 million in federal COVID-19 aid through the CARES act at the council’s July 21 meeting. The council heard requests for the first installment of the funding on Tuesday.


The first installment of the aid will be approximately $500,000 and the money cannot be used to offset any city revenue shortfalls due to the crisis. Any unused portion of the relief funds must be returned to the federal government.


The Wasatch County School District requested $56,000 for student packets containing masks and hand sanitizer. The beginning of the school year is just around the corner and the school district hopes to return to in-person learning. The costs are estimated to be about $6-$8 per packet.


The council approved this request but Councilmember Heidi Franco expressed concern over whether the city should be stepping in to help the county school district before fully determining what their own needs for the funding might be.


“I feel like we need to wait until we have a more accurate idea of what our costs will be," said Franco. "I’m sorry to be the naysayer here. I’m sure that the Wasatch Foundation or even just a volunteer effort around the city is going to help, especially since the state government has already provided masks to two million people within our state. I’m not sure of the need for more face masks, I can understand maybe sanitizer. I’m just concerned about us taking on the school district’s needs right now.”


Heber City Manager Matt Brower said the city has about $50,000 dollars in direct costs attributed to the effects of the pandemic so far. He added the city is unlikely to use the full $1.5 million in relief funding unless Heber is particularly hard hit by a potential second wave of the virus this fall.


The council also held a lengthy discussion about a proposed change to the city’s lighted sign policy aimed at addressing issues around the aesthetics of business signs and combatting increasing light pollution in the Heber Valley.


Heber City Planner Jamie Baron said the proposed changes are an effort to retain Heber’s rural personality and sighted the creeping light pollution on the other side of the Wasatch in Utah County as what the Heber Valley hopes to avoid in the future.


“What we face here is we’re trying to promote and retain our rural character," Baron said. "How do we try and prevent this in our own valley? There’s not much we can do in terms of keeping it from coming up over the mountain but we can try and keep it from happening in our own city. That’s the goal, that’s what we’re really trying to do.”


The proposed changes to the city ordinance would lift the ban on rooftop business signage and require all signage in the city become dark sky compliant. In order for a sign to be considered dark sky compliant, there would be a limit to its brightness in addition to rules about where signs can be placed in order to reduce the amount of light that shines directly into the night sky.


The draft ordinance also would require business signs to be turned off at 11pm or 30 minutes after the close of business, whichever comes later.


Council debate centered around whether or not the local business community still depends on signage as a primary form of advertising. Councilmember Mike Johnston brought up the point that people seldom drive down the street to look for a place to eat anymore when it’s easier to just look up businesses on a phone and follow directions there.


Councilmember Rachel Kahler added the city should be mindful of Heber’s reputation of having no nightlife. She said a requirement to shut business lights off could potentially drive out late-night visitors to the city and hurt local businesses.


Kahler requested Brown work with the Heber Chamber of Commerce to gather input from local business owners before a vote is taken. Council approved this request and will revisit the issue at the council meeting scheduled for September 2. 


An expected vote on the proposed changes to Heber’s banner policy was also moved to the August 18 meeting due to time constraints. The controversy surrounding the flying of pride banners down Heber’s Main Street during Pride Month in 2019 and 2020 solicited strong reactions from both sides of the issue and prompted Heber to craft a new banner policy for the city.


The original proposal limited city banners to promote only events sponsored by the chamber of commerce or to recognize federal, state, and local holidays. The language also stated that promoted events must be non-political.


The council moved to further clarify the language on what will and won’t be allowed on street banners on July 21. Mayor Kelleen Potter confirmed to KPCW on Thursday that council will be considering two versions of the ordinance before the August 18 meeting. Both versions will be made available for public input early next week.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.