Legislators Meet With Wasatch County Officials, Residents
Four Utah lawmakers attended a town hall meeting in Heber City with city officials and residents Thursday.
They talked about stimulus money from the federal government, impacts of growth at the local level and other topics.
Heber City manager Matt Brower used the town hall as an opportunity to ask legislators how $615 million Utah will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act will be allocated.
Senator Ron Winterton, representing Utah’s 26th district, said about 1/3 of the money has been allocated, and much of it will go to water and education grants.
But he said legislators are waiting to understand the spending rules attached to the funds. Those rules may require using specific contractors and suppliers, who could be more expensive. Yet the state could be penalized if they didn’t use them.
“We could build about less than a third of what we could if it was state money,” Winterton said. “So, keeping that in mind, sometimes it’s not the greatest use of our money to accept their money to have them tell us and dictate how to use it. We don’t get the product that we want, so we’re still looking at it. We’re going to have more money coming, but still, it’s really unwise to spend it and give it away and find out we spent it the wrong way and have to pay it back.”
The senator said the state has until 2024 to allocate the rest of the money and until 2026 to spend it.
Brower also brought up how the state will be involved with future planning and zoning in cities and towns.
Winterton suggested cities like Heber and Midway continue to create affordable housing. He said he would support city planning made at the local level.
“I don’t want the state to get into planning mode and take over local planning decisions. That’s your job, and so anything we can do to help, I’m committed to making sure your voice will be heard there,” the senator said.
The topic of growth at the local level led to Midway resident Jim Martinos asking the legislators for help with recent property tax surges.
He said this year, his taxes increased by over 200%. He also met a woman in the same position who now might have to move from a home that’s been passed down in her family for generations.
But he wasn’t just there to raise awareness; he outlined a plan that could protect senior citizens like her from losing their homes.
He proposed that the Legislature cap property value assessment increases for homes of people 65 and older in cases when they’ve lived there for at least five years.
“She was born and raised here,” Martinos said. “That property has transferred hands from family member to family member. She’s now going to have to probably sell that to be able to pay the taxes and survive. That’s not right. We can do better. In addition, this would allow seniors to live out their golden years with the assurance that they will not be taxed out of their homes. As you know, seniors are not in a position to return to the work force to cover the cost of increase. We must do something to keep some dignity.”
Winterton and Rep. Mike Kohler, a lifelong Midway resident, agreed the state should consider enacting a program like this.
The next Utah Legislative Session will begin in mid-January of 2022.