Wasatch County Council Discusses Open Space, Also Takes Another Step In Employee Housing Program

At their March 4th meeting Wasatch County Council held off on a decision for when to issue the open space bond but also made progress on their updated county employee housing program.

The Wasatch County Council declined to issue the first of two $5 million bonds that voters asked for in the November 2018 elections. The council chose to hold off on issuance of the bond as they wait for recommendations from the Wasatch County Open Space Board a volunteer board that will offer recommendations to the county council on how the money ought to be spent. Here are council members Mark Nelson and Steve Farrell.

“The other thing that at least hasn’t been presented to the council yet, is who’s applied?” Nelson asked. “How many applications are there? Has the board evaluated those?”

“I think we need to recognize our bonding criteria for the County is different from the bonding criteria Midway used,” Farrell answered. “Ours is for the preservation of agriculture land where Midway has got historical value, and recreational value included. So, that’s what we have to weigh as an open land board before we bring it to the council.”

Of course, one project on the council’s radar is the Albert Kohler Legacy Farm. Earlier this week Midway City pledged $1,000,000 in financial support to the 60 acres of the project located in Midway City’s annexation boundary. The project has 42 additional acres located in Wasatch County, which could be eligible for some of the $10,000,000 in open space funds the county passed. Councilmember Farrell commented on using some of the money for the farm.

“We want to use it, leverage it, with other monies,” Farrell said. “This is a good project, but there’s a lot of good projects around.”

The Wasatch Open Lands Board meets next on Monday, March 9th.

At Wednesday’s council meeting the council also further discussed the county’s employee housing assistance program. The program offers qualified Wasatch County employees to choose to receive between 5% and 18% towards purchasing a home during application. The Shared Appreciation Mortgage or SAM program allows the county to co-invest in the property acting as a second silent mortgage owner on a home bought by a county employee. When the home is eventually sold or refinanced the county is owed the share of equity proportionate to the percentage originally contributed by the county. You can hear more about the program here.

At the meeting, assistant county manager Dustin Grabau described a few application methods to evaluate employees who ask for funds. The council ultimately chose a weighted option.

“The weighted lottery program would basically randomly award applications that had come in during that application window but weighted towards first responders,” Grabau continued. “We haven’t talked about specifically what the weights would be, or the different rates. This is actually the option that the committee wanted to propose to you as a council body. Because they felt like it was ability to address the prioritization, while still having a chance of addressing basically anyone’s needs regardless of what their position was.”

The council considers housing first responders in the community as an important priority including sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, and EMS responders. Both Fire Chief Ernie Giles and Sheriff Jared Rigby expressed their support of the program. Councilmember Spencer Park voiced his support of the weighted application method.

“The weighted lottery could give us the ability to push it towards which departments we needed the help for the most, at that time,” Park explained. “I’m going to set everybody up for failure to try to prove that snowplow drivers aren’t just as important. Maybe we have a problem, we need to keep them housed in the area. We need them close to prevent accidents, getting emergency response there. So, this gave us the flexibility as a council to move the weighted to where we needed it.”

Council directed county staff to continue with the project and bring it to the Wasatch County Housing Authority who would ultimately administer the program.

Read the original story at KPCW.org