More than a decade ago, Salt Lake County was in the grips of an incorporation and annexation movement that seemed destined for bad results. As cities tried to gobble up areas with the most tax-producing commercial ventures, and unincorporated pockets tried to form their own cities to preserve their unique character, other areas braced themselves to be left out in the cold part of an unincorporated area that would be increasingly difficult to service.
That's when state lawmakers stepped in and passed a law allowing unincorporated areas to form townships whose borders would be protected from encroachment.
The township law is scheduled to expire in 2010, but new surveys commissioned by Salt Lake County show that people in those townships see no need to change. Only in Magna does a significant minority believe incorporation someday is likely. Given those results, the Legislature, which required this survey, ought to renew the law and allow townships to continue.
Very little has changed on this issue since the mid-1990s. Cities still would like to annex areas with attractive tax bases. Unique neighborhoods, on the other hand, would like to remain intact. They don't mind the county providing essential services. All they really desire is a say over their own planning and zoning issues. Townships allow them this.
If it doesn't renew the township law, the Legislature has only two options for keeping Salt Lake County from a municipal feeding frenzy. One would be to create a process that forces all unincorporated areas, regardless of their tax-base desirability, into cities. This is the option commonly referred to as wall-to-wall cities.
The other option would be to dissolve all cities within the county and form one consolidated countywide city, with a single police and fire department and a council large enough to represent each area.
The first option would be a logistical nightmare, with cities arguing over residential areas that cost more to service than they generate in taxes. The second option would be a political nightmare. Existing cities would be unwilling to give up power in favor of a larger city, and their legislative representatives would make passage of such a plan difficult.
That leaves townships as the best alternative. Judging by the survey, people who live in those townships seem to agree.