SALT LAKE CITY — For too long, residents of unincorporated Salt Lake County have had to choose between local control and high-quality services.
The Utah Legislature's passage of SB199 offers far better options for local governance, says Mayor Ben McAdams.
"There's now an option on the table where residents choose whatever government structure best suits their needs," McAdams said during a news conference Friday.
Elections will be held in six townships in November — Millcreek, Magna, Kearns, White City, Copperton and Emigration Canyon — to allow residents to decide if they want to be part of a metro township or a city.
People who live in small unincorporated islands or communities will vote whether to maintain their current status or annex to a city based on the city's annexation master plans and review by the Salt Lake County Council.
Communities that vote to join a metro township will then decide whether to join the Greater Salt Lake Municipal Services District, which will provide services such as snowplowing and streetlighting. They also will be given more control over tax revenue generated by their respective areas with respect to buying municipal services from the county or providing them themselves.
Elections would be held in 2016 to select local representatives.
SB199, sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, and carried in the House by Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, was largely the creation of the county's Community Preservation Committee.
The volunteer effort brought together representatives from throughout the unincorporated county, some of whom have battled one another over efforts to form cities, disputes over proposed annexations and other challenges resulting from their unincorporated status.
McAdams thanked Mayne, Hutchings, County Council members and some 50 community volunteers who worked over the past year to develop principles that became the basis for the legislation.
“At a time when people wonder whether or not their civic participation matters, this is a shining example of how, by working together, we can build the future we choose for our neighborhoods and communities," McAdams said.
"This wasn’t an easy task, and it required people to set aside suspicions that grew out of some strong disagreements in the past. I couldn’t be more grateful and proud of how we rose above that to forge a consensus and move forward," he said.
Hutchings said people in townships and unincorporated islands have long labored to figure out who they are, how to protect themselves and plan for the future.
“(Thursday) was an epic shift in the way we will be able to work with our own communities and develop our own futures. And it is a beautiful morning having gotten this done (Thursday) night," he said.
Mayne said SB199 is a "vehicle for change. The 225-page bill created a new form of government, a metro township, that will be protected from annexation. The township would have authority to enact local ordinances and oversee planning and zoning.
"Now were going to have peace in the valley," Mayne said. "Those who live in unincorporated Salt Lake County can now make choices (about) what they want. They get to have ownership of where they live. This is such important legislation. It’s changing the whole way we do business in Salt Lake County. It’s a great day for us. It’s a new beginning for us, and it’s kumbaya," Mayne said.
But it didn't start out that way, said Rick Raile, chairman of the residents' Community Preservation Committee.
"It wasn’t always kumbaya. There were some serious arguments, some emails I'm definitely going to take off my computer," Raile said, laughing in retrospect.
But over time, the group came together and worked collaboratively on the end goals.
"It was just a matter of bringing everyone together in one room and saying, ‘Look, this is what our goal is in the end. So how do we get there from here?'" he said.
Once the group completed its work and prepared to pass it off to the legislative process, "it seemed like it was carrying a basket of eggs to the state Legislature without this turning into an omlet," Raile said.
Then Mayne and Hutchings set about selling the bill to their legislative colleagues. The bill passed late Thursday night.
"It was just a big deal. When it's a big deal, you have to nurture and explain," Mayne said.
"Anytime we move government this much, they have to think about it. That's what makes it good government."