In Heber City, the mayoral election is a race to manage booming growth

Mayor Kelleen Potter is being challenged by city council member Heidi Franco.

(Sara Tabin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Heber Mayor Kelleen Potter, Park City Mayor Andy Beerman and Midway Mayor Celeste Johnson listen to questions at a panel on climate change on July 31, 2019 in Park City.

Growth, and how to manage a booming municipality, is the talk of the town in Heber City’s mayoral race this year.

Mayor Kelleen Potter, the rapidly growing city’s first female executive, is being challenged by City Council member Heidi Franco in the Nov. 2. election. Heber City voters will also use ranked choice voting to elect two City Council members and whether or not to support Wasatch County’s new sales and use tax.

Potter is running for reelection, she said, because being Heber City’s mayor is something she loves. “I’m passionate about it. I feel like I’m making a difference working with people.”

But managing the growing city, which grew by nearly 50% between 2010 and 2019 to over 17,000 people, is not a one-woman show, Potter explained.

“In order to do anything, the mayor has to have a good relationship with the council, and the staff, and the community and the business owners,” Potter told The Tribune. “And once we can all come together, that’s when we really make progress. And I feel like we’ve made a ton of progress in the last four years.”

She added that dealing with change, like the massive growth Heber City has experienced over the last decade, is a practice in managing competing values.

“One of the things that’s so interesting about local government is it’s always far more complex than people realize,” the incumbent mayor explained. “And, and so much of local government is finding good solutions between people and entitlements — whether it’s property rights or legal contracts, whatever their legal rights are — what the city and state laws are, and then where that space is in the middle of what cities can and can’t do.”

If reelected for another four years, Potter wants to ensure the city is prepared for what she thinks will be decades of growth and development. And to do that, she said, the city will need to begin codifying the development blueprints in the community’s Envision Heber 2050 plan.

Franco, an American government professor, is passing on the opportunity to run again for City Council and has joined the mayoral race as Potter’s only challenger. She said she first fell in love with Heber City as a child and that her priorities as mayor would be “to build the capacity of our city government to really handle the growth in a thoughtful, responsible, and sustainable way.”

That capacity, like additional municipal staffing and training, Franco told The Tribune, would be paid for with fees that developers pay to submit proposals.

“Set our fee so that we have enough staff, enough training, that we can manage our growth, and not have it manage us,” she explained.

Franco, who is finishing her second term on the Heber City Council and has lived in the community since 2005, said she also would try to add four additional ordinances to the municipality’s code as part of a way to protect the city from growing too rapidly.

First, she wants Heber to require that future developers have water rights before they are approved for new development densities in the city. She also would like to add a sensitive lands water quality ordinance and an onsite stormwater ordinance that meets EPA and state standards for urban stormwater runoff. Finally, she wants to update developer user fees.

“Most of the people that talk to me are very concerned about the growth,” Franco said. “They don’t like the increased traffic and congestion on the roads. They’re really concerned that they are losing their quality of life.”

The City Council members who are not running in the mayor’s race have endorsed Potter for reelection.

Voters in Heber City will also elect or reelect two City Council members and vote on Wasatch County Proposition #6.

The ballot initiative is a 0.1% sales and use tax to fund recreation, arts and parks, known informally as a RAP tax. Both Potter and Franco said they support the proposal.

On the ballot for City Council are Councilman Wayne Hardman, who is up for reelection, and newcomers D. Scott Phillips, Yvonne M. Barney and Bryce Hoover. Heber residents will use ranked choice voting, which allows voters to rate candidates by preference.

The two mayoral candidates are divided on their opinions ranked choice voting.

Franco said she is “interested and concerned” about how ranked choice voting will work, and that she didn’t think there was enough understandable information published on how the ranking and rounds system would be used to select candidates.

Potter, who said she had worked as a consultant on ranked choice voting, supports the election style.

“I think it’s great,” Potter said. “I do think it could be one way to help restore voters’ faith in government because it more fully expresses the will of the voter.”

Election Day in Utah on Nov. 2.