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Wasatch County hesitant to add tax to pay for High Valley Transit

The Wasatch County Council is considering options to expand public transit in the future.
The Wasatch County Council is considering options to expand public transit in the future.

The Wasatch County Council is not convinced it should add a new sales tax to cover High Valley Transit services.

High Valley Transit began offering services in the Heber Valley in November 2022. The area’s lone bus route, the 106, runs between Park City and several stops around Heber. Up to six micro-transit vans offer rides to areas the bus doesn’t cover, much like using a ride-share app.

At its work meeting Wednesday, May 8, the Wasatch County Council discussed options for the future of transit in the valley.

Wasatch County Manager Dustin Grabau told the council the transit service provided almost 230,000 rides in the county over 14 months, and it’s primarily used by locals.

But Councilmember Erik Rowland said ridership numbers alone won’t convince skeptical residents transit is worth the more than $3 million price tag.

“It’s like saying, ‘Hey, we’ve just presented a free cake to the community. Look how many people are eating it.’ Well, of course, it’s a free cake,” he said. “You’re giving a free service away, of course people are going to be utilizing it.”

Grabau said the service has helped people get to medical appointments, taken cars off the road and saved trips and time for busy working parents.

He also gave an overview of options to expand transit in the future.

Adding paratransit services – pre-booked, ADA-compliant transit rides – would cost around $200,000 per year. Reducing micro-transit wait times to 15 minutes would cost about $630,000 a year and increasing the 106 bus route frequency to every hour would cost about $700,000 annually.

Introducing transit service to Utah County, either Provo or Orem, is another possible expansion. It would cost about $2.6 million per year for a route double the distance of the current 106 route to Park City.

High Valley Transit costs around $3.5 million annually, and transit sales tax currently only generates around $3 million. That’s because overall sales tax revenue was lower than expected last year, and the service was more popular than predicted.

“We either need to curtail about 20% of our current transit service, or we need to identify an additional funding source,” Grabau said.

The county could adopt a new mass transit sales tax of 0.3%, which could be used for transit, transportation and public safety.

Grabau said if the council opts to raise taxes, it will need to authorize the increase by June 30 and provide opportunities for public comment. Alternately, he said the council could use county savings to fulfill the contract with High Valley Transit, which runs through 2025.

The council worried about taxes increasing across the board and didn’t come to a consensus about the best path forward. Rowland said he wants to see more evidence investing in transit will benefit the majority of the community.

Grabau promised to provide options at the council meeting next week, May 15.