On the future of Utah County Government 04

Utah Rep. Mike McKell speaks during a press conference to announce efforts to change Utah County's form of government Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the Historic Utah County Courthouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Utah County should have the chance to vote on changing its form of government this coming November, a recommending body affirmed Thursday night.

The Utah County Good Governance Board met and voted in late May to recommend to the Utah County Commission that the county’s current form of government, a three-person commission, be changed to a mayor-council form. The board had been researching the issue for months following its creation by the Utah County Commission.

However, most of the time spent reaching that conclusion centered around discussion of the form of government, not a timeline for when it should happen, said Cameron Martin, chair of the recommending body. That’s why Martin called one final meeting of the GGAB to have more discussion on issues like an appropriate timeline to recommend.

Though the GGAB was supposed to have a recommendation about changing the form of government to the Utah County Commission by the end of May, Martin said he asked for an extended deadline for multiple reasons.

The board was unanimous in agreeing that the form of government definitely needs changing.

“It is evident by our findings: change in form of government is needed,” Martin said.

However, there were serious reservations from some board members about whether it was feasible logistically to get the item on the November 2019 ballot.

Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers, who runs the elections division in the county, expressed some reservations about the 2019 timeline to the board at Thursday’s meeting.

First, putting the question on the 2019 ballot could cost the county an additional $150,000 to $200,000, Powers said, because in 2019 unincorporated areas and some cities are not holding elections. Putting this on the ballot would require the county to help fund elections for places that otherwise would not be having them this year.

That would require Powers to ask the county commissioners to re-open the year’s budget. If the election happened in 2020, there would be no additional cost to the county to have it on the ballot.

Her even bigger concern, Powers said, would be implementing the new form of government for the 2020 election in an office that is already working overtime to get everything ready and meet required deadlines for a presidential election year. Meeting required deadlines for things like drawing districts for council members would have to happen by Dec. 1.

Many arguments were also raised in favor of having the issue on the 2019 ballot.

Brian Chapman, the director of the Strengthen Utah County Political Issues Committee, said it would be easier to elevate the discussion of the issue if it’s on the ballot during a municipal election year, rather than having it overshadowed during a presidential one.

“If we wait until next year, nobody will even know what’s going on,” Chapman said.

Conversely, others argued that voter turnout would be better during a presidential year, meaning more people would be able to weigh in on the county government question.

Ifo Pili, Eagle Mountain city manager and member of the GGAB, said the message that the committee wanted to send was that the government should be changed as soon as possible. Since the soonest date to put it on the ballot is November 2019, Pili said the committee should stick with its original recommendation.

It’s the commission’s responsibility to decide what to do with that recommendation, said Rex Facer, vice chair of the GGAB.

“Our voice is loud in that we want them to move forward,” Facer said.

County governments can be changed in one of two ways. Either the current governmental body can place it on the ballot, or citizens can place it on the ballot by gathering a required amount of signatures.

The county government can be changed to include a five-person commission, an elected mayor/council form or a hired manager/council form.

A group called Strengthen Utah County had already announced in February that it was starting the process of gathering signatures on a petition to put the question to the ballot with the elected mayor/council form that was recommended by the GGAB.

One of the original signers of that petition is current Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie, who strongly supports a change in the form of government and says it will provide a separation of powers to provide appropriate checks and balances that the current form lacks.

So, if the petitioners gather enough signatures, the question could be on the Nov. 2019 election regardless of what the county commission decides to do with the GGAB’s recommendation.

The GGAB is scheduled to make its recommendation to the county commission at 1 p.m. June 20 at the Utah County Administration Building in Provo.

Katie England covers local government, the environment and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

Katie England covers politics, county government and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

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