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Heber City government hopefuls debate economic strategy

Heber City council mayor mayoral meet the candidates October 19 2021 Chamber of Commerce
Ben Lasseter
Candidates for Heber City government sit in front of Wasatch County business representatives in the Zermatt conference room in Midway. (L-R): mayoral candidate Heidi Franco, city council candidate Yvonne Barney, incumbent Mayor Kelleen Potter, and council candidates Bryce Hoover and Scott Phillips

Addressing the business community yesterday, candidates for Heber City mayor and council all said they’d support small businesses, but with different approaches.

Both candidates for mayor, incumbent Kelleen Potter and Councilwoman Heidi Franco, took the the Zermatt conference room stage in Midway, addressing the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce and guests.

Three of the four candidates running for two council seats also attended. Friends of Heber Valley member Yvonne Barney, medical scientist Bryce Hoover and financial advisor Scott Phillips were there. Incumbent Wayne Hardman was away traveling in California.

After Hoover told the room he’d focus on bringing more foot traffic to Main Street, Barney said she’d represent the voices in the community opposed to large-scale growth downtown.

“I think the thing that we’ve seen most since post COVID, and we’re still in it, is the fact that a lot of businesses that lost their revenue, that lost their business,” she said. “So, I think it’s important that we stay away from large-format developments. I think it’s important that we develop and upkeep our infrastructure in the downtown area, allowing small businesses to be in buildings that would thrive.”

Barney and Hoover expressed skepticism over the current council’s plans for the downtown economic development project, known as the community reinvestment area, or CRA.

City officials have described the CRA as the key to funding a “revitalized” downtown Heber over the next two decades. By restoring old buildings, building parking areas and updating infrastructure, it hopes to attract tourists and shoppers and grow the city sales-tax base.

Phillips said bringing a large national business into the reinvestment area is the best way to create tax revenues to fund downtown projects.

“Small business is the community, and we need to be a business-friendly community. If we look into the future, the CRA’s going to produce millions of dollars of benefit, not only to the city, not only to the county, not only to the school district. Just imagine a full redevelopment of Main Street. That’s the only way this is ever going to happen. Where will the money come from to redevelop Main Street without the CRA?,” Phillips said.

Using a CRA is a financial strategy the city enacted in July to use tax revenues to reinvest in downtown Heber. With a CRA, only new tax revenues are used to fund reinvestment projects downtown.

For example, a city study projects a new Smith’s Marketplace could help generate up to $16 million in taxes over 20 years. Based on that estimate, the city council approved an agreement Tuesday to help build a new Smith’s in the future.

Hoover said he’d rather look for ways to achieve that economic development by investing in small businesses and revitalizing existing buildings.

“The CRA in my mind is to help small businesses, not large corporations,” he said. “If we’re dumping money into a new Smith’s store, for instance, to do a new development, what’s going to happen to the old Smith’s store? I’m concerned about Main Street and dumping money into people’s small businesses - so, the city comes in and gives them money to improve their businesses, but then we’ve just doubled their taxes. I don’t want to tax small businesses out of the valley.”

The candidates for mayor both said they’d listen to expert voices and their constituents to make decisions.

Franco, the only councilor to vote against the agreement with Smith’s Tuesday night, said the city should be careful committing large revenues from the CRA to big businesses.

She told the forum audience, “To me in the beginning, the CRA that we originally discussed on the city council was going to have the local-business focus. The city council discussed about it being used for a local parking garage, for business facades and revitalization in the downtown area, but also for subsidies for essential workers, which we as a city or a county or a school district also need to get as much as you’re struggling to get essential workers.”

Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Potter suggested implementing the strategy on a case-by-case basis.

“What this CRA should do is create development that would not happen but for that investment from the CRA. There are places where someone could put some storage units, and we might say, ‘Well, we didn’t really want storage units there.’ Well, maybe with some investment from the CRA, they could do something a little bit better that would help create some better sales-tax revenue, make something better for that area of town; those are the kinds of things,” Potter said.

On Friday, the candidates for Heber City Council will meet again on KPCW’s Local News Hour from 8 to 9 a.m. To listen live, tune to 91.9 FM in Wasatch County or 91.7 in Summit County, or visit kpcw.org to stream the conversation during or after the broadcast.

City Hall sent election ballots to voters last week. Election Day is Tuesday, November 2.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.
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