Wasatch County Council voted Wednesday evening to approve issuing two million dollars to the preservation of a 100-acre dairy farm in the valley.
In November 2018 Wasatch County residents voted to issue a $10 million bond to be used for preservation of open space in the county. The bond can be used to buy development rights off of properties, meaning housing and commercial buildings can’t be placed on the land, while still allowing farmers and ranchers to use the land for agriculture in perpetuity.
The Albert Kohler Legacy Farm is a 103-acre dairy farm located on the north end of Midway between River Road and the Provo River. In 2019 the Kohler family signed an agreement with Utah Open Lands to sell the development rights on their property for $7 million dollars.
The project applied for two of the ten million dollars available through the Wasatch County Council. Before approving the project, the council heard a presentation from Utah Open Lands and members of the Wasatch Open Lands Board which advises the county council on dispensing of the funds.
The board uses an application process to evaluate those asking for funds. The Kohler farm checked all 19 factors of consideration including community, educational and agricultural benefits. County Manager Mike Davis did share his concerns of issuing the bond funds during such an uncertain time in the economy.
“I'm concerned about the tax situation the county’s in,” Davis explained. “The voters voted for the bond. I understand that, but the voters are also going to see a significant tax increase this year without this bond and with this bond it’s going to be more. That's a concern to me. I think the fact that we're having this hearing before the tax notices go out is a disservice to the tax payers. Because how can the taxpayers know what they’re really going to be up against, from a tax standpoint, until they have the tax notices. I understand it wasn't done this way to do that, I get that, but I am concerned about that.”
Wasatch Open Lands Board Chairwoman Heidi Franco pointed out that interest rates for bonds are low right now.
“Saving land is a good or bad economic cycle endeavor,” Franco continued. “Whether it's good, whether it's bad, we have to save what we can, when we can. We’re encouraging you to act in a timely way, so that all of these balls that Wendy (Fisher Director of Utah Open Lands is) juggling with all of the different funding sources can still stay in the air and come together on this deal.”
Utah Open Lands has now secured 6.25 million of the required seven million for the easement. With several million coming from Federal and State funds, two million from the county and one million coming from Midway City’s open space bond. At the meeting eight people shared public comment all in favor of the project including Midway City Council members Steve Dougherty and JC Simonson as well as Midway Mayor Celeste Johnson. Wasatch County Council member Steve Farrell says preserving agricultural heritage in the valley has been his goal ever since he joined the council.
“It took a battle,” Farrell said. “We had trouble even getting it through our own Planning Commission and then the council. We were very cautious at spending the taxpayer’s money. Each time we seen another one of these farms develop, it became more evident that we had to do something. I appreciate help in getting everything in line so that we could present it to the taxpayers. An open space bond that they supported over 70%. This is a necessity if we’re going to keep any of the rural character of this valley. This is only one of many projects we ought to be doing I hope this is the first of many.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the use of two million dollars to preserve the Kohler Legacy Farm.