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$150 million in bonds up for approval after Wasatch County school board public hearing Thursday

New Wasatch County School District High School concept Heber City WCSD
Heber City
A concept for the potential new high school in Heber City shows a school building similar in design to that of Wasatch High School and athletic facilities near the intersection of 600 West (top) and 100 South (right.).

In a meeting Thursday evening, the Wasatch County Board of Education is expected to confirm $150 million in debt for a new high school. But first, taxpayers have a chance to be heard.

The public hearing follows the required timeline for issuing lease revenue bonds which don’t require voter approval.

Chair of the Wasatch Taxpayers Association Tracy Taylor encourages people who have opinions about the school district’s financing strategy to show up and speak out.

“Please show up to the public hearing tonight at 6:30 at the Wasatch district office in Heber. This is your only chance to have a say.”

Taylor, who also was on a steering committee advising the district’s process for determining how to address overcrowding at Wasatch High School, says she wishes the school board was using a different, less expensive strategy – a plan that was presented to the school board for consideration.

“If this is really a problem, we are totally in support of a $12 million extension of that high school today. That is something we — I believe everybody — could rally behind to get the quickest relief for these students.”

According to Principal Justin Kelly, student enrollment surpassed 2,600 this year at the high school built for 1,800 students.

The district plans to officially approve lease revenue bonds to fund a new high school and campus after triggering that process board during a meeting in July. That type of bond is becoming a more common way for governments to pay for construction projects. The school district will repay the bonds with the district’s existing revenue sources, namely property taxes.

The district estimates a new high school will cost around $160 million, including a 5% contingency fee. The board plans to ask the public to vote in November on covering the remaining $10 million with general obligation bond, which does require voter approval.

According to Superintendent Paul Sweat, the school district hopes to begin construction next spring and open the new campus in fall 2025. That timeline is unofficial as of now.

Issuing the bonds without needing voter approval could help the board avoid a repeat of 2019, when voters rejected a general obligation bond to build a new high school.

In public hearings and other forums, taxpayers have expressed mixed support for the funding strategy. While many agree the county needs to accommodate for student overcrowding, some argue the public should get to vote over the move that will impact property taxes the district collects.

The school board meets at 5 p.m. Thursday for a work meeting at the Wasatch Education Center, 101 East 200 North. The public hearing begins at 6:30 p.m.

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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