In our opinion: Annexation pressures

Published: Saturday, March 9 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Crowds gather as the future of the Millcreek Township is debated at a town hall meeting at Skyline High School Tuesday night in Salt Lake City, Utah Mar. 18, 2008

TOM SMART, DESERET MORNING NEWS

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A new campaign in support of incorporating the township of Millcreek has begun, despite the failure at the polls of a similar effort just a few months ago. It signifies the continuing high levels of interest and anxiety among residents over the course of their civic future.

It also offers evidence of continuing uncertainty over the jurisdictional integrity of Salt Lake County as a whole.

Those are anxieties and uncertainties state lawmakers need to address in order for a sense of equity and fairness to prevail. Unfortunately, we've seen little interest on their part to do so.

In Millcreek, the level of community activism is commendable. Residents are certainly tuned into the issue — public hearings on last year's incorporation drive were packed, and the measure drew an exceptionally large turnout of eligible voters who defeated the incorporation initiative by a margin of 60 to 40 percent.

The measure has returned largely out of concerns that the area is vulnerable to annexation by another jurisdiction. Organizers say they have evidence that Salt Lake City is pursuing a strategy to foster an annexation drive within the township boundaries. The city denies it has such a strategy, but says it would consider any annexation petition delivered to its door by Millcreek property owners.

Those who continue to support creation of a Millcreek City see the new drive as a way to build a defensive wall against the intrusion of another jurisdiction.

The issue is and always has been about local control and the costs associated with it. Salt Lake County contains several populated unincorporated communities, as well as pockets within incorporated cities. Letting this play out with a form of municipal Darwinism makes little sense for the people involved. Rules are in place to prohibit municipal land grabs, but those rules provide little peace, especially when they could change on the whim of any Legislature. Cities naturally would like to annex tax-rich businesses and industries, leaving single-family homes to fend for themselves in unincorporated areas.

In the big picture, there can be no certainty over what the future holds simply because of the slapdash nature of Salt Lake County's jurisdictional map. There are 16 cities, six separate townships, and areas that are simply unincorporated. Hence, conflicting pressures are constantly at play. Cities are tempted to expand their territories and their tax base. The county is motivated to keep its municipal areas in tact and avoid a future of wall-to-call municipalities. In the middle are the residents of unincorporated places who long to be excused from the tug-of-war over jurisdictional control.

As the county's population continues to grow, the pressures will become stronger. We recognize that any solution is bound to inflame passions, but state lawmakers cannot continue to ignore these many competing interests and their struggles to provide redundant police, fire and other services.

It's gratifying to know that Millcreek residents have demonstrated the ability to decide their future in a responsible way, with an honest, open and vigorous debate. It makes little sense, however, for them to keep voting on an issue that demands a larger, more comprehensive solution that preserves communities of interest while providing services in a logical and cost-effective manner.

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