SALT LAKE CITY — It looks like a west-side split from Salt Lake County won't be happening anytime soon.
The vote to shoot down the bill came despite the bill sponsor's efforts to represent a constituency that has become fed up with feeling unrepresented by Salt Lake County government.
"There is a disenfranchisement that is palpable in parts of my county," said Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan.
There's been no formal call from councils and mayors from cities including Herriman, Riverton, West Jordan and Copperton, but a handful of elected leaders from those communities turned to Coleman to create an option in state code if their cities were to ever want a "divorce" from Salt Lake County.
Frustrations with the county come after what elected leaders from the area say have been a variety of issues, including discontent over how money for transportation or other projects has been distributed — seemingly to favor the east side.
Herriman residents were also outraged when the Salt Lake County Council last year approved the 930-acre, 8,800-unit Olympia Hills development, leading former Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams to veto the project. Some west-side local leaders also opposed a $58 million sales tax hike to pay for transportation projects, but the county enacted the tax after enough city councils — mostly on the east side — voted to support it.
While the bill was spurred by Salt Lake County concerns, some leaders in San Juan County began eyeing the bill after last year's election when the County Commission saw its first Native American majority elected, even though Navajos slightly outnumber white populations in the county. A judge realigned the commission's district lines after finding gerrymandering favored white residents.
"This bill has literally been a journey," Coleman said, noting she took a trip to San Juan County to take input for the bill.
The bill was confronted with several concerns in an earlier House committee but still passed out favorably. On the House floor, Coleman unveiled a long list of changes she said would address concerns, including requiring a feasibility study for both a new county and the county being left behind before a possible split could go to the ballot.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, tried to block the changed bill, protesting sweeping changes on the House floor.
"I really reject this process of changing the bill so dramatically on the floor," Arent said.
Nonetheless, the House adopted the bill substitute, but it was still met with opposition from some of Coleman's fellow Republicans.
Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, said a county split would be "very ill-advised" and he wasn't sure that the process laid out in Coleman's bill would be the best approach.
"I think the best template for something like this is already in statute," Stenquist said.
But Coleman argued current state statute isn't clear enough — and counties would benefit from a clearer process, similar to what is already allowed for the formation of new cities.
Her bill would have allowed communities to break off and form their own county with a petition and vote of residents without requiring a majority vote from the county they'd leave behind.
Coleman noted Salt Lake County is among the nation's largest counties with 1.2 million residents.2 comments on this story
"It is true that when government jurisdictions grow and grow … frankly away from the ability to be responsive, the people need to have a way to self-direct," Coleman said.
She acknowledged the bill with changes to require feasibility studies likely would make a west-side split from Salt Lake County impossible, at least for the time being, but she said she'd rather put a process in place that could be used in the future.
"This is a high, high threshold," she said.
Still, the bill failed. As the end of the 2019 session approaches, it's unlikely it will be resurrected in time to be considered again this year.