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Will Highland allow businesses to open Sundays? Voters will decide

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6 2012 5:14 p.m. MDT

Residents of Highland will vote in November to decide whether businesses should continue to remain closed on Sundays. Since 2000, only gas stations and businesses that have been granted waivers are open on Sundays in the northern Utah County city.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

HIGHLAND — Voters in Highland will not only be voting for the next president of the United States this November, they will also be voting on whether or not to allow local businesses to open on Sundays.

For many Highland residents allowing Sunday business hours is a choice between maintaining the small-town atmosphere and peaceful traffic-free Sundays that currently exist and bringing in larger retailers and the sales tax revenue that they would help support the city.

"It's a community value issue we've had for years," Highland Mayor Lynn Ritchie said. "I'm glad we're doing a vote. It needs to be voted on."

In August the City Council voted to raise property taxes for Highland residents by 41 percent in order to pay for road repairs as well as new roads. For now that increase has also been postponed by a referendum. Ritchie said allowing Sunday business hours won't replace the need for property tax revenue, but it would help.

"The opening on Sunday will bring very little incremental revenue ... revenue will be small, but tax needs for roads is great," Ritchie said. "The city has a fairly large debt and we don't want to bond anymore."

Ritchie said the city conducted a survey a few years ago and an overwhelming majority of residents said they enjoyed having businesses closed on Sundays. But the Highland City Council voted in April to allow businesses to open on Sundays pending a November election. It was later learned that a citizen referendum was required to put it on the ballot, but signatures were gathered and citizens will get their vote.

"In order to get it on the ballot for the fall, we had to do it a little bit quicker," said petition organizer Rod Mann. "And the county gave us a timeline which said we had to submit the names within three weeks of when we got the petition."

Peterson said the petition for the referendum had nearly 2,200 signatures and almost 1,900 of them were verified. Should the referendum pass in November, Highland businesses will remain closed on Sundays.

"It's a community value that I believe the residents should give their voice on," City Councilman Brian Braithwaite said. "I think it's great that they’ll be able to have the opportunity to let people know where they stand on it."

Braithwaite originally voted in April not to allow businesses to open on Sunday, but later pushed for the referendum once it was apparent that other council members were going to amend that bill to allow businesses to open on Sunday immediately.

"The fact that the majority of the council, I believe, was out of touch with where the residents are," Braithwaite said, "the next best thing is to put it on a referendum and let the residents say."

Christy Johansen owns a boutique store in Highland. She said, "I think they want to keep a small town, which I understand. ... But when growth is going on all around you if you don't jump on the bandwagon, you are just left behind."

Walmart in Cedar Hills and the Smith's in Lehi are not only close to Highland, but they are across the street from city limits.

Johansen lives outside the city and said she doesn't think that the city should choose for people what they can do on Sunday. 

"That's my problem with Highland City is that they are trying to make the choice for everyone else, that's what I find interesting about Highland City, that they do that for everyone," Johansen said.

Luis Blanco recently bought Countryside Dry Cleaners in Highland said he is planning to move to the area and hopes that residents have the option of Sunday shopping.

"I hope they change it," Blanco said. "Business will get better for everybody and the city can collect more taxes."

Blanco said he thinks people shopping on Sunday should be able to stay in Highland.

"My opinion is let the people make their own choices," he said. "They are going somewhere else (on Sunday) instead of keeping the money here."

Mann said he enjoyed organizing the petition and gathering signatures and said he generally had good discussions with nearly everyone.

"A few said this is a bedroom community and they want to keep it that way and the rest said they liked the shared day of rest," Mann said of those who want to keep businesses closed on Sunday. "Ten to 20 percent said they think (businesses) should be open on Sunday, but think people should vote on it."

For now, the only Highland businesses that are open on Sundays are gas stations and a few other businesses that were given waivers, such as a country club and a soon-to-be mortuary.

For residents hoping to learn more about the issue, there will be a panel discussion to talk about the pros and cons of Sunday business hours Tuesday,  7:30 p.m. at the Highland Community Center, 5378 W. 10400 North.

Twitter: @FinleyJY

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