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Wasatch leaders approve two infrastructure districts amid qualms over ‘public good’

A springtime view of the Jordanelle Reservoir.
Grace Doerfler / KPCW
A springtime view of the Jordanelle Reservoir.

Wasatch County councilmembers approved a developer’s application for two public infrastructure districts, or PIDs, Wednesday.

Both developments are east of the Jordanelle Reservoir. One is for the Black Rock Mountain Resort, a primarily commercial project, and the other is for Wakara Ridge, a neighborhood under construction east of Tuhaye.

PIDs are a way for developers to build infrastructure like roads and utilities using bonds. Those bonds are repaid through special assessments or property taxes, so property owners in the district could be charged extra to cover the cost.

The debt only applies to properties within the PID, making it a financially attractive option for the county, but the district is independent of the government once approved, which limits local oversight.

In the county council meeting June 26, councilmembers said many residents asked whether condo owners in the Black Rock development would be included in the PID.

PIDs require 100% consent from all property owners in the proposed district. Russell Skousen, the developer’s attorney, said the application specifically left out all units that weren’t owned by the developer.

“There is no property owner that is a third-party owner that is included in any way in this petition for a PID,” he said. “We just expressly exclude them.”

A full list of units excluded from the district can be found in the meeting agenda packet.

The council also pressed Skousen to define the “public benefits” the PID policy requires to justify the new public infrastructure districts.

Skousen said infrastructure inherently benefits the public. He added the projects could bring significant tax revenue to the county.

“We had [an] economic impact study on this,” he said. “The impact over the life of the bonds that will be involved here was in excess of $700 million to the county – just in tax dollars.”

Councilmember Erik Rowland questioned the Black Rock event center in particular, saying there should be a way to ensure county residents benefit from every project included in the PID application.

“If you present it as an argument to make it part of that public good, then we would certainly want to expect to see that good as a policy on your side to make sure that it is accessible to the public,” he said. “Otherwise, don't present it as a public good.”

Skousen also argued approving PIDs benefits the county because it’s competitive with MIDA, the Military Installation Development Authority.

MIDA is a state agency originally founded to support the military, governed by a board that’s appointed, not elected. It invests in economic development projects to generate revenue for its programs. MIDA is involved in several major developments in Wasatch County, like Deer Valley’s East Village resort expansion and the Skyridge luxury golf course.

“MIDA has many more tools to help developers than are found outside of MIDA,” he said. “The county benefits more from this development than it would from a MIDA development.”

Despite the council’s hesitations about the public benefits of the two projects, members unanimously approved both PID applications.

The applications will now be sent to the county’s bond council for further review before the PIDs are officially created.

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