Big Water Mayor Alex Joseph is not up for re-election on Tuesday. Nor are any of the council members in this small town near the Utah-Arizona border.
But all now find themselves embroiled in a political battle over the very existence of the town, home to Utah's only elected Libertarians. Joseph's political opponents have garnered 51 signatures on a petition - enough to force a special disincorporation election Dec. 18."They can't win at the municipal election ballot box, so now we have special elections to look forward to every other year. It really is ridiculous," said Elizabeth Joseph, town attorney and the mayor's wife.
State law provides that if 25 percent of the voters in the most recent congressional election sign a petition calling for a special election, the district court is required to hold one. Only 26 signatures were needed in Big Water to call for a special election.
The call for disincorporation comes in the wake of the town's first-ever property tax - a tax instituted to pay an estimated $30,000 in legal fees incurred by the town in defending itself in two separate lawsuits.
Elizabeth Joseph said both lawsuits were instigated by the mayor's political opponents who lost last year's municipal elections - the same people who are behind the petition drive for disincorporation.
"It's ironic that they are using the property tax issue as the reason for the disincorporation vote. And they are the very reason why we have a property tax," Joseph said. "A year ago we had no lawsuits and no property tax."
But Betty Olsen, one proponent of the disincorporation drive, said the special election is not political sour grapes.
"We've been talking about it for a long time, and we decided incorporation was not the best thing for this town. We're not just a little handful of people anymore. The tax hike on property has everyone involved it.
"And it isn't an attack on Alex Joseph. It's an attack on the way they are spending money for this town. What are we getting for our money? Usually you get something from incorporation, but we are getting nothing. We can't even get our streets paved."
Elizabeth Joseph estimated the special election will cost the already financially strapped town about $1,000. She added that basically the same people live in Big Water who lived there a year ago who elected Alex Joseph by a 2-to-1 margin.
The petition has 51 signatures - one short of the number of people who voted for Joseph's opponent in 1989. Joseph received about 100 votes.
"The numbers haven't changed, and the results of the special election won't be any different (than the municipal election results)," she said.
Elizabeth Joseph added that most disincorporations in Utah history have been instituted by governing bodies faced with rapidly declining populations - not politically disgruntled citizens. She said the town will be approaching the Legislature about tightening the rules on disincorporation elections.
"Without rule changes, I'm sure we'll be looking at more and more money for frivolous special elections in the future," she said. "And when they lose this one, the town will get sued again. I'm sure of it."