SALT LAKE CITY — About the only thing people in unincorporated Salt Lake County agree upon is that the status quo isn't working.
It's why there is a renewed effort to incorporate Millcreek Township into a city.
It's why an East Millcreek neighborhood that is contiguous to Holladay wants to annex to that city.
It's also why Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams has proposed a third option: legislation that would enable residents of the unincorporated county to select a new form of government, a municipal council. The proposal also envisions that the county mayor would be the area's executive officer while municipal services and administration would be provided by the county.
"What brings us to the point we are today is the age-old debate within the community that has pitted neighbor against neighbor and, I believe, has been detrimental to the progress of our unincorporated residents," McAdams said during a press conference Wednesday in the Salt Lake County Council Chambers.
What brings us to the point we are today is the age-old debate within the community that has pitted neighbor against neighbor and, I believe, has been detrimental to the progress of our unincorporated residents.
–Ben McAdams, Salt Lake County mayor
The conversation has simply reached a stalemate, he said.
"It's no surprise to me there is a stalemate because what we are presenting our residents with are two imperfect solutions; we're forced to choose between having high-quality regional services and direct representation in directing what those services are," McAdams said.
"We're forcing our residents to choose between boundary protection and higher taxes. Those are tough choices for people who are weighing things they want on both sides of the debate. I believe it's time to present new options and new solutions."
The Community Preservation project envisions "better government but not more government," he said. The proposed legislation would create a vehicle to protect boundaries and encourage economic development in their communities in terms of jobs and tax revenue to support key services.
McAdams said residents could enjoy the benefits of direct representation and efficiently priced regional services. The proposed municipal area would encompass the east canyons, Millcreek, Granite, White City, Kearns, Magna and other communities now in the unincorporated county.
The proposal explained
Under the plan, the County Council would remain intact as the countywide government oversees services such as public works, health and animal services. The Unified Police Department and the Unified Fire Authority would continue to provide public safety services.
"There will be peace in the valley," predicted Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, sponsor of the yet unnumbered bill that aims to preserve communities, provide direct representation for residents of the unincorporated county and allow for the efficient delivery of municipal services from a common tax base. The bill has not yet been released to the public.
"We need to value townships. We need to give them a government of their own. We need to protect their boundaries. We can't continue to go on like this." Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City
"We need to value townships. We need to give them a government of their own. We need to protect their boundaries. We can't continue to go on like this," Mayne said.
If the Utah Legislature passes the bill, voters in the unincorporated county could vote as soon as 2015 on the change of government, which would go into effect in 2016, McAdams said.
The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said the Salt Lake County Council is the municipal government for residents of unincorporated Salt Lake County, more than 135,000 people who live in more than a dozen townships and communities.
"When you live in the unincorporated parts of the county, you feel a little bit like you go home, you take all valuables out of your house, go out and lay them on the front lawn and just really, really hope that you have good, honest, friendly neighbors that aren't going to take everything from you. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't," Hutchings said.
Both sides of the argument
Jeff Silvestrini, longtime chairman of the Mount Olympus Community Council, was more pointed in his criticism of the township model.
"Our Founding Fathers would be horrified by the model we have. It's really taxation without representation," Silvestrini said.
Silvestrini said he believes McAdams has carefully studied the issue leading up to the previous Millcreek incorporation vote, which was rejected by voters in 2012 by a margin of 40 percent to 60 percent.
Under the current system, residents of Millcreek Township share many of the same frustrations as residents of other townships and communities in the unincorporated county, Silvestrini said.
"We want some stability in our boundaries. We want to be able to preserve our communities intact and be protected from annexation. This proposal would accomplish that," he said.
If the bill fails, Silvestrini said, he would still support incorporation of Millcreek, largely over concerns about a lack of direct representation and boundary preservation.
Meanwhile, backers of a drive to incorporate Millcreek Township said they would have more than enough signatures to the county on Thursday, kickstarting another effort to place a question before voters whether to establish Millcreek City.
Spokeswoman Mary Ann Matheson Strong said McAdams' plan creates a patchwork city of the remaining areas of Salt Lake County and does not preserve communities.
"We want to have our own city, Millcreek City. We don't want to be in a city with areas all over the county. We want to have our own mayor, elected by us, not appointed or self-appointed as in the mayor's plan," she said.
Backers of the Millcreek City proposal hope to have the incorporation matter before Millcreek township voters later this year, Strong said.