Issues Facing Wasatch County


I love living in this beautiful valley, not only because of the breath-taking mountains and quality of life but also because of the values people hold dear. I am running because with so many high- density developments, I want to ensure we are protecting the beauty and vitality of Wasatch County. Smart and responsible growth are my priorities.

I have spent my life in public service as a business development professional, advocating for people at People’s Health Clinic, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah, JDRF and ADA. I’m a member of Wasatch County’s Board of Adjustment, WC Community Caring Coalition, WC Latino Coalition and WC NAMI. I hold a Masters in Public Administration from University of Utah and BA in Humanities from USC. Like you, I am concerned about the exponential growth happening here and how it will affect infrastructures such as roads, schools, traffic, pollution, open space, economy, agriculture, life quality and more.


Here are my thoughts on issues facing Wasatch County. Please feel free to contact me to discuss anything important to you, not mentioned below.


COVID-19 (C19)

With the onset of C19, life as we know it in Wasatch County has changed dramatically. Businesses have shut down. People have lost their jobs and health insurance. Culturally, people have become distraught by constantly staying at home. Social distancing and mask wearing have become the new normal. Where do we go from here? As a person who works at a health clinic on the front lines, I see the desolation every day. We are all waiting for a vaccine or cure and when it arrives it will take some time to penetrate into our community. But until then, please remember C19 not only affects the health of our community members it also affects the health of our economy. Therefore, we must contain community spread so we may keep our economy open. Shutting down businesses again would be devastating for our local economy. It would ruin lives. This isn’t about abstract political controversies—it is a matter of life and death, physically and economically.

It is up to community members to be vigilant in staying safe. Their actions or inactions affect others, not just themselves. If things get bad enough, some people speculate a mask mandate will come from our governor. Right now, our hospitals are close to capacity and our numbers of C19 continue to rise. For that reason, to maintain freedom, keep our businesses going, and to keep people out of hospitals, we must practice what our Wasatch County Health Department recommends: wash your hands often, wear a mask, cover your coughs/sneezes without your hands, disinfect surfaces/objects often, avoid contact with ill people, avoid sharing food or personal items and touching your face, and stay at home as much as you can.



Smart Development

Wasatch County is the fastest growing county in Utah and the third fastest in the nation (Census 2020). While developments such as Mayflower, Skyridge, North Fields Resort, Sorenson, Benlock Ranch, Christensen Farms, Victory Ranch, Deer Cove, Cove Point, and Tuhaye are in different phases of plan approval by Wasatch County Council (and a few are near completion), we still have an opportunity to work with some to make sure they providing infrastructure and what matters most to our community such as the least amount of density, open space, trails, roads, property for schools, and more. This is where the Smart needs to come in. We must have guidelines and agreements with developers. Success comes from collaboration and identifying impacts, then working together to mitigate those impacts. Importantly, we need to change the state law prohibiting impact fees on new developments for school growth.

Growth is challenging but it also brings new opportunities. With new development comes a population increase attracting more businesses to Heber Valley. This increases sales and property tax revenue and enables more people to work right here in Wasatch County instead of commuting outside of county limits. My goal is to work collaboratively with all County/City/Town leaders to create a clear economic and development plan which incorporates attainable housing, and open space and recreation, which makes our valley so special and economically attractive to businesses. We must always stand up to preserve that land and maintain that balance as that drives our economy and sustains our quality of life. Our children are depending on us.



Affordable (Attainable) Housing

In the past five years the population of Wasatch County has increased 26% and employment increased 32% (Housing Needs Assessment 2017). With new development and growth coming into Wasatch County, the demand for housing has increased to the point where affordable housing (AH) is inaccessible as the median price for a home in WC is $528,000. In addition, people love this County and want to live here. They come with money. This is not lost on developers who build to that market demand rather than to the majority of us who can’t afford home ownership at those levels. A Housing Needs Assessment was conducted in 2017 and here are a few key take-aways we must focus on:

-Among Utah’s 29 counties, only Summit County has higher housing prices than WC
-Fewer than 10% of the homes sold in WC were attainable to homeowners with incomes below the median income of $66,486
-The rental market is extremely “tight” – eight rental projects had no vacant units, and all have long waiting lists – over 1,000 applicants on the list at Liberty Station.
-Attainable housing for those who provide essential support services for the local economy (i.e. police officers, schoolteachers, hospital workers, food service) are priced out of the local housing market.

Essential service workers cannot afford to live here. And with new businesses coming to WC how will individuals be able to afford buying or renting here? The trend: workers have to commute in to WC to work and leave when their shift is over. This burdens our roads, air, local traffic and ultimately our businesses because people do not want to commute an hour and spend extra money in gas for lower paying jobs. People want to live close to where they work.

Solutions:
1. Inclusionary Zoning which means counties and cities must require that developers develop 20% of homes for AH. Right now, Heber City necessitates 10%. Midway, none.
2. Most cities and towns offer developers a menu of alternative ways to satisfy their attainable housing requirements. The most common way is to pay a fee-in-lieu of on-site production. This fee, paid by the developer, goes into a housing trust and used to finance attainable housing off-site. The problem? WC’s fee-in-lieu of $28,000, is outdated (hasn’t been updated in 20 years) and the amount of money left to build attainable housing usually equates to cheap construction in undesired parts of town. This splits our neighborhoods into the haves and have nots. This split is contrary to a wholesome community and sends a silent message to our next generations. And, developers easily pay this fee, so they don’t have to develop AH onsite and can get current market value for every home built. Our code must be updated to the current standard of $85,000 fee-in-lieu per unit. This will curb developer’s desire to build offsite and if they do pay this fee, the county will have more money to use in building.
3. We need a dedicated person who fully understands this AH process, is fully knowledgeable and can make it work with our cities, counties and developers.

In closing, if developers want to build here, they must provide more attainable housing and pay current fees-in-lieu for off site development.



Open Space

The people of Wasatch County have spoken loud and clear. Open space is a priority and 100% support this ideal. Remember, in order to maintain our agri-quality of life and to keep our economy humming, open space is essential. In 2018 two multi-million bonds were passed – one for WC and one for Midway City. In July, Wasatch County Council approved the allocation of $2 million to the preservation of the Albert Kohler Legacy Farm. Because of the enormous public input, WC Council listened to those voices. And, Midway approved using $1 million of their bond to preserve this iconic Midway farm. This couldn’t have been done without the work of Wasatch Opens Lands Board and Utah Open Lands who stewarded this process and secured, and is still securing, the remaining funds to close the deal. To date, $6.25 million of the required $7 million for the conservation easement has been raised with several million coming from Federal and State funds. Another example of open space success and dedication is the recent Kem Gardner open space acquisition.

Why am I mentioning all of this? Because it shows how important it is for local and county governments to work together to accomplish a goal. Acquiring Kohler Farms was an inspiring example of how great things happen when we put our minds and hearts together.

In addition, open space actually increases land rights for owners because it gives each a way to “sell” development rights for a portion or all of their land and stay on their land to continue agriculture or farming at the same time. Property owner’s easements can now remain open space in perpetuity, never to be developed.

And lastly, protecting our environment is not optional. Environment is not just about open space, but it is also about keeping our water supply safe, our air clean, and our property free from natural disasters such as fire, mudslides and flooding.



Wasatch County Regional Transportation

Wasatch County is growing exponentially and it is vitally important we implement a transportation system not only within our county, but to neighboring counties such as Utah and Summit. According to a Needs Assessment study, 58% of our residents drive outside Wasatch County to work and a large number of individuals commute in from neighboring counties, which contribute to traffic, pollution and road maintenance. Wasatch County population is expected to grow to 76,000 by 2050 and we have already seen the effects in Heber City as Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG), a regional transportation planning group, is currently conducting a study on a Heber Bypass.

It is great to see that Wasatch County, Heber and Midway City, along with Park City is currently looking at regional transportation. MAG recently presented their Wasatch County  Transit study to all partners above. In a nutshell proposed transit consists of Local Service within Wasatch County, a Wasatch to/from Utah County commuter, a Park City to/from commuter and Vanpool Services. Transportation can be financed in a number of ways, other than the property/sales/resort tax or ride fares - Transportation impact fees for developers is one (and we have a lot of development happening here right now). There are also federal revenue grants we can apply for. Other cities have used these to keep transportation free for all services. Additionally federal transit funds exist that can be used. The study also gave the option of a new WC transportation tax which would be .25% of a penny and generate $2.4 million a year.

Nevertheless, I feel Wasatch County needs to work with its partners (Heber, Midway and Park City) to create a pilot program and come up with a model for funding and governance before we move forward with anything. This should be a collaborative effort. And, of course, we will need public input so government representatives can ensure they are representing residents in their decisions.



Public Input

I love this quote from President Abraham Lincoln because it sums up the purpose of government and the role of elected officials:

“Democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

The power of each individual is in their vote. When they elect a person to office, it is the role of the elected official to represent the people who voted them in and those who didn’t. It can be difficult for council members to represent the people in their community if community members do not have knowledge of agenda items being talked about at council meetings and therefore cannot voice their opinion. While access to public input has improved dramatically in recent years, it could still be better. County Council needs to go to where the people are to let them know about upcoming decisions and considerations.

Public notices serve as a path for information from the government to the public. They enable citizens to monitor the actions of their local governments. These legal notices let people know about government actions and they alert people of actions that could impact your family, community or business.

Ideas to Make Public Notices More Accessible:

1. Provide a Public Input Sign Up link on the WC government site that is front and center. Right now, the only way to receive agendas on this site is to contact Wendy McKnight at the WC government office and ask that she add you to an email list. This “public input” messaging was buried on their site and I spent so much time searching for it.
2. Have a County Council member appear weekly on Heber Valley Radio’s The Peak to discuss current and upcoming agenda items/issues at Council meetings. At standing radio times, the Council member can include how the public can submit comments or attend Council meetings via Zoom or phone.
3. Post weekly messages on social media sites such as Facebook’s Ask Heber, Ask Midway, Wasatch County Politics, etc. to publicize upcoming agenda items/issues being discussed at Council meetings. Posts can also include how the public can submit comments or attend Council meetings via Zoom, email and phone.


I don’t have all the answers. That is why it is vitally important to listen and learn from all of you. I ask for your vote for Wasatch County Council so I may serve and represent you. What you need to remember about me:

I am a person of integrity and I will always ask first and last ‘Is this the right thing for Wasatch County? Is this the best thing for the people of our valley?

Please contact me with questions or concerns.

Thank you,
Aimee


Aimee Armer

Email: armerforwcc@gmail.com 

Facebook: @armerforwasatchcounty council

Cell: 435-640-9115