Editorial: Park City’s social equity efforts have been absent from Treasure bond debate
September 19, 2018
After years of controversy surrounding the Treasure development proposal, its fate is now up to Park City voters.
In the months since City Hall announced it would place a bond on the ballot — later pegged at $48 million — to largely fund a $64 million deal to buy and conserve the Treasure land, the community has debated a number of pertinent issues, from the traffic impact a development there would have on our already-congested streets to whether preserving the hillside would benefit all of Park City.
But one crucial point has been largely absent from the discussions.
At the same time officials were crafting the Treasure bond, they continued pressing the topic of social equity, aimed at ensuring all residents, regardless of factors like race and economic status, have a seat at the table and can thrive in Park City. For most Parkites, it's an easy effort to get behind, particularly given the shared concern that the rising cost of living threatens to price working-class folks out of the community.
In one of the first concrete steps toward progress on the issue, the City Council last week voted to hire the Park City Community Foundation to spearhead the push and create a strategic plan to address social equity. Parkites should be encouraged and eager to see the solutions the nonprofit unearths.
The economics of the Treasure bond, however, conflict with the ideals behind the city's effort.
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A successful bond would raise property taxes on a primary home valued at roughly $800,000 by $194 a year, with the increase equaling $353 for secondary homes or commercial properties of the same value. Most Parkites can manage such a tax hike easily enough. As supporters of the bond have repeatedly noted, many residents spend that much on a night out on Main Street or could save that amount over the year by skipping their morning latte once a week.
The people targeted in City Hall's social equity efforts, though, would have a much more difficult time. Park City's low-income residents, most of whom are renters, already struggle to make ends meet in our expensive resort market. Many work second jobs just to cover housing.
Their landlords would be unlikely to absorb a property tax hike in their profit margins, so low-income tenants will instead bear the burden in the form of rent increases. For many families, the increased expense would be tough to shoulder. For some, perhaps, it would be impossible.
Elected officials, for one, should publicly address the inherent conflict the tax increase would create with their social equity goals. And voters who are supportive of the city's inclusivity efforts should weigh the disconnect when they fill out their ballots.
To be clear, there are plenty of good reasons to vote in favor of the bond. Preserving the hillside along the Town Lift in Old Town and preventing the substantial impacts of a development the scope of Treasure would create are among the most compelling.
But in a community that prides itself on being inclusive and envisions a future in which working-class people can continue to raise families here, it's disappointing that the effect the Treasure bond would have on that segment of our population hasn't been a larger focus of the debate.