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Local News

Roaring economy is the top story of 2021, Summit County manager says

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Park Silly Sunday Market
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The resilience of the local economy, buoyed by special events like the Park Silly Market, was evidenced by sales tax revenues that in some cases were 21% higher than last year and surpassed 2019 levels.

Summit County Manager Tom Fisher gave KPCW his take on the local stories of the year. Topping the list? The white-hot, pandemic-proof local economy.

Summit County had no shortage of large projects this year, from the local pandemic response to lawsuits against Hideout over its attempt to annex part of Richardson Flat to a $50 million open space bond — all with a new transit district to boot.

But County Manager Tom Fisher said the story of the year was the local economy’s response to the pandemic.

“Just the spectacular economic conditions that we experienced here in Summit County. You know, where we see it is in sales tax collections, up sometimes as high as 21% year over year, and then a significant increase over 2019, which was the last really regular year. So you know, the resiliency of this economy, through this thing that has really affected economies all over the world, has been remarkable,” Fisher said.

The proceeds of those sales tax revenues helped fuel the largest operating budget in the county’s history, more than $65 million for 2022.

Fisher discussed two of the more impactful land-use processes this year: the proposed Tech Center development at Kimball Junction and Hideout’s ongoing attempt to annex part of Richardson Flat. He characterized them as part of a larger picture of development pressure that is being felt across the county. He mentioned potential projects in Hoytsville as another example.

“It's really an indicator of the overall development future of the Basin and Summit County as we move into the future,” he said. “It's an attractive place to be and people want to develop here. They want to make money here. People want to be here to recreate and participate in what all of us already participate in. And so we're going to continue to have those challenges. And I'm not sure we have total agreement in the community about what that future is.”

Fisher suggested community sentiment might have changed significantly since the county last set about asking the public for feedback in an organized visioning process. The county’s planning documents reference community surveys that are a decade old.

Fisher’s office has suggested a building moratorium until the Snyderville Basin development code and general plan are updated. The public opposition to the Tech Center development proposal drew nearly 1,000 people, a groundswell of opposition councilors said was unprecedented. Officials said that suggested the county government was out of step with the public.

“I think it's a much bigger effort than just a public survey, and I don't know what that is yet. And we're working on that,” Fisher said. “But we are going to do it. I mean, we're budgeted to do it, we've talked about it. I think it's now narrowing down to 'how' and 'what' we're going to do, in order to get that information so that we can really look at general plans in the future.”

Fisher said the outreach project would likely include an education campaign. There are hundreds of thousands of square feet of projects in the Snyderville Basin that have been approved but not yet built, limiting the county’s ability to stop development. Those projects form a future for the Basin that the public, especially newcomers, might not know about.

All of this land-use work continues amid the pandemic as the number of local cases hits unprecedented marks.

“Certainly the public health response, being a county responsibility, was our lead effort and was a lead effort for two years. And, you know, it was this time last year that we were gearing up for the beginning of vaccinations and how that was going to work and how we were going to staff all that,” Fisher said. “And what a remarkable thing, also, that our community stepped up and did all that, and then also reacted by getting vaccinated.”

In addition to large building projects proposed for next year, including a headquarters for the High Valley Transit District, Fisher also mentioned the workforce housing project at the Canyons Village base area of Park City Mountain Resort as particularly noteworthy. That has the potential to house up to 1,107 employees.

He pointed to the $8.8 million in grants to build recreation projects across the county as benefiting smaller communities, grants that were sourced from strong sales tax revenues and recently awarded.