Business leaders in the Heber Valley heard from local elected officials at the state of the Heber Valley at Tuesday’s Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon, including Midway’s Mayor.
Midway Mayor Celeste Johnson began her speech by emphasizing the importance of tourism to Midway’s economy, especially the ability of the city to collect a resort tax. The resort tax allows approximately 16 Utah communities with a certain ratio of full-time homes to short-term stay units to charge 1.1% tax for transactions in the city. Growth in Midway had put the city at risk of losing the ability to charge resort tax, but Mayor Johnson reports efforts to keep the tax by lobbying the state legislature has proven successful.
“We got legislation that created an extension to get back into compliance,” Johnson explained. I'm confident that we’ll be able to keep that tax now for at least the next 5 to 8 years. We'll see what happens after that, but that tax represents about $700,000 for Midway. I’ve only got a $3.7 (million) budget so you can see that’s a substantial amount of income for us.”
Earlier this month Midway City Council added campsites from the Wasatch Mountain State Park into city boundaries to boost the ratio of homes to short-term units.
Mayor Johnson also used the speech as an opportunity to address growth issues in Midway. Johnson said residents of Midway sent a clear message in 2018 when they passed the $5 million open space bond, that message being that part of preserving the culture of Midway includes protecting open space.
“We want to be able to give landowners an opportunity to have an option,” Johnson said. “If they need money out of their land, is their only option to sell it to a developer. Or do they now have an option to sell the development rights, create a conservation easement. Which means no matter who gets elected in the next bazillion years, this land cannot be developed. We are now creating a sense of what our community wants to ultimately look like.”
Mayor Johnson shared a chart highlighting how the bond money might be spent. The chart was purposefully vague on the nine properties the city is considering but 416 acres with current densities that represent over 400 dwellings could be preserved through issuance of the open space bond funds. Mayor Johnson noted the importance of preserving land in order to prevent future councils from increasing zoning in order to meet some need
“We couldn’t have a city council down the road 20-30 years from now saying, you know what, we put a conservation easement on that but what we really need now is, fill in the blank,” Johnson continued. “If a 3rd party is holding your conservation easement it’s quite a process to try to ever get that changed back to where it could be built on. So, what this represents is eight landowners who have said I want to keep my land agricultural. I can’t afford to do it forever more, but I can if I sell the development rights. It's a pretty cool concept. No one is being forced. A landowner could sell to whomever they choose to sell to, or they could put a conservation easement on it.”
Johnson said that Midway residents may even want to bond for additional money in the future. Although Johnson couldn’t speak about the details of the potential projects, she did say that the Kohler Dairy Farm Conservation is one of those projects.
Mayor Johnson also noted the city is looking at updating its branding. One logo they’re considering mirrors the Swiss canton half oval symbol, with mountain peaks inside of the logo that also resemble the letter M for Midway.