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Wasatch School District considers paying for new high school without voter-backed bond

The Wasatch County Board of Education meets at the Wasatch Education Center, located at 101 East 200 North in Heber City.
Ben Lasseter
The Wasatch County Board of Education meets at the Wasatch Education Center, located at 101 East 200 North in Heber City.

With the goal of building a new high school in mind, the Wasatch County Board of Education is considering an alternative to a voter-approved bond for funding.

Wasatch High School reached 499 students over capacity in 2022, according to GSBS Architects, a consultant for the school district. A study GSBS carried out during most of the 2021-2022 school year and into May recommended building a new high school in Wasatch County as soon as possible.

But after voters rejected a bond to build a new high school in the 2019 Wasatch County election, the school board wants to avoid a repeat of that this year.

In a public hearing last month, supporters and opponents agreed that to come up short on votes again would be the worst possible outcome.

In a board meeting Thursday, the school district's bond attorney Randall Larsen introduced another approach to financing a new school. He explained the board could form a local building authority to issue lease revenue bonds, which don’t require voter approval, to fund new buildings or upgrade existing ones.

“One way is to say let's do the election, and if it fails, put people on notice [that] we're going to use the building authority statute as our backup — if we have to, that's what we will do,” he said. “The third one is, let's just do a building authority and take the Truth in Taxation issue and make sure we don't affect services of the budget and get these buildings.”

He added that the district could use a combination of voter-approved and lease revenue bonds to fund construction.

It’s a method of financing nearby districts are using.

The Park City School District formed a local building authority in 2020, then authorized $42 million earlier this year. That money was added to $79 million of general obligation bond money voters approved last November and is being used for district-wide facilities expansions and upgrades.

Larsen said governments and school districts in Tooele, Utah and Salt Lake counties have recently used the strategy to fund building projects as well.

Like the Park City School District’s approach, the Wasatch school board discussed using both types of bonding for a new school. Board members said a benefit of the lease revenue bond could be locking in construction costs before inflation raises prices, but a general obligation bond could come with lower interest rates.

Acting as a consultant to the board on Thursday, Managing Director Matt Dugdale of investment banking firm Stifel said it could create the building authority without any obligation to do a lease revenue bond.

“As the district considers creating a local building authority, really, it's just putting one more arrow in your quiver, not necessarily that you're not going to shoot all the arrows, but it's another arrow and an option.”

The board could create the building authority at its board meeting Tuesday.

The meeting is at the Wasatch Education Center at 101 East 200 North and will be broadcast on the Wasatch County School District YouTube channel.

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