2020 budget and proposed tax increase discussion 05

Utah County Commissioners Bill Lee, Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie listen as Josh Daniels, Utah County deputy clerk/auditor, speaks during a town hall meeting concerning the 2020 budget and the proposed tax increase held Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, at the Utah County Health and Justice Building in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

A proposition to be included on Utah County ballots in November will let voters decide whether the county should abandon its current three-commissioner form of government in favor of a mayor-council form.

Executive and legislative decisions in the county are currently made by the Utah County Commission, which consists of three full-time members elected at large. Proposition 9, if approved, would create a Utah County Council consisting of five part-time members, which would have legislative power, and a Utah County Mayor position, according to the optional plan that residents will vote on.

“The Utah County Mayor is the county executive and is the chief executive officer of Utah County government,” the plan said. “The Mayor has the powers, duties and functions of a county executive under Utah Code Title 17, Chapter 53, Part 3 … and is vested with all executive powers, duties and functions not otherwise provided for in state statute, the Utah County Code, or this plan.”

The five part-time council members would each be elected “through the partisan election process as provided for in state statute” in one of five geographic districts.

District 1 would cover west Utah County, including Lehi, Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs, while District 2 would consist of north county cities like American Fork, Alpine, Pleasant Grove and Highland.

District 3 would cover Lindon, Vineyard and Orem, and District 4 would cover Provo. District 5 would cover south county cities, including Spanish Fork, Mapleton, Payson and Santaquin.

Supporters of the change in government say that, in addition to separating legislative and executive duties, a mayor and geographically elected council would be a better form of government to represent the rapidly growing county.

In May 2019, the Utah County Good Governance Advisory Board, which was established to examine whether the county should change forms of government, recommended the county change to a full-time mayor and seven-member part-time council.

“It is evident by our findings: Change in form of government is needed,” said Cameron Martin, chair of the advisory board.

The county commission voted 2-1 in January to let residents vote in the general election to decide whether to switch to the mayor-council form.

Commissioner Nathan Ivie, who was defeated by Tom Sakievich in the June Republican primary election, said the change would cut county government spending by 34%, noting that the annual costs would include a $120,000 salary for the mayor and a $20,000 stipend for each council member.

“I would like to see this move forward to see if the voters approve of this,” Ivie said in January.

Those opposed to the change, including Commissioner Bill Lee, warn against increasing the size of government and argue that a mayor would have too much power.

“It’s a consolidation of power into one person, which is the mayor,” said Lee, who led a failed petition effort earlier this year to see whether voters would support switching to five part-time commissioners and previously blocked the commission from voting on the mayor-council change. “The mayor has a lot of power. And to me, that’s problematic.”

In an op-ed published by The Salt Lake Tribune on Aug. 14, Laurie Stringham, a candidate for an at-large seat on the Salt Lake County Council who was “actively involved in the push for Salt Lake County to switch from county commissioners to a mayor and County Council,” wrote that the change in Salt Lake resulted in taxes being raised “at an alarming rate” and with “little transparency.”

“Although today I would vote the same as I did 20 years ago, I would only do so if tighter parameters were put into place,” Stringham wrote. “At the time, hope was running high and I believed in a separation of executive and legislative duties.”

Stringham said she was concerned that Utah County’s proposed change would include a deputy mayor position, noting that, in Salt Lake County, “one deputy mayor turned into four” and eventually six.

“If Utah County residents choose a mayor and County Council form of government, I implore you, please, learn from your neighboring county to the north,” wrote Stringham. “Do not become lax in your watch of the mayor and County Council. Do not be lulled into complacency as your county mayor raises your taxes while expanding her office, filling it with salaried staff, who are quickly on their way to millionaire status on the backs of you, the taxpayer.”

The optional plan does not specify whether it would include a deputy mayor position, Utah County Deputy Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels said on Wednesday.

More than a dozen Utah County lawmakers and mayors have voiced support for the change in government, including House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, and Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, who is the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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