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PROVO — Utah County voters will decide this year whether to adopt a new form of government, county commissioners determined Tuesday.
The commission, split 2-1, agreed to put a mayor-council form of government on the Nov. 3 ballot for a public vote. The plan, if passed by voters, would create an elected county mayor and five elected county council members.
Commissioner Nathan Ivie argued that the new structure would bring down costs and amplify the voices of local communities at the county level, while Commissioner Bill Lee said he was concerned the proposal would create a bigger, less responsive form of government.
Ivie and Commissioner Tanner Ainge voted in favor of the resolution, while Lee voted against.
The rapid growth of Utah County’s population — with more explosive growth expected in the coming decades — has raised the question of whether a mayor-council structure would serve the county’s needs more effectively than a three-person commission.
The county currently has a population of about 620,000; it will become the state’s second county of the first class — along with Salt Lake County — when it reaches 700,000. The population could shoot up as high as 1.6 million in the next 25 to 30 years, projections show.
An advisory board to study the potential shift in government recommended last year that the county switch to a full-time mayor and part-time, seven-person council, with a chief administrative officer to manage the day-to-day county operations. The proposal on the ballot in November would create a full-time mayor and a five-person, part-time council, with members elected according to geographical districts.
“This proposal provides for checks and balances, separation of powers, and also costs the taxpayers less for better representation,” Ivie said in a statement, noting that the plan is expected to cost 34% less than the county’s current structure. “This form of government will better serve the needs of our growing county by giving local communities a guaranteed voice at the table.”
“There’s no better recipe for good government than increasing the number of informed, engaged and principled people participating in the democratic process,” Ainge said in a statement. “My hope is that by placing this on the ballot, 2020 will be a year of public engagement on how county government impacts the lives of our residents and the best way to allocate the legislative and chief executive powers of our county.”
Lee, meanwhile, said he had concerns about creating a larger county government structure.
“In evaluating different forms of government over the past year, I have found that Utah County citizens want to see government kept small,” Lee said. “Maintaining a limited, responsive government is a goal I will always pursue.”
If passed, the new structure would go into effect in 2023. The first mayor and council members would be chosen in 2022 elections.