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Michael Anderson, KSL, File

To city or not to city? Western Weber County goes to the polls with incorporation in the balance

By Graham Dudley, KSL.com | Posted - Oct. 23, 2020 at 2:21 p.m.



WEST WEBER, Weber County — Residents of the western Weber County communities of Reese, Taylor, Warren, West Warren and West Weber have a big decision to make this election season, one that will affect the future of the area for generations to come.

Proposition 18 gives those areas the choice to either band together into a new city, West Weber Community, or to continue as unincorporated areas under the governance of the Weber County commissioners.

As if that choice weren't enough to chew on, many Warren residents have petitioned neighboring Plain City to be annexed into it — creating uncertainty about what exactly West Weber will look like, even if incorporation is successful.

The case to incorporate

Greg Bell, a Taylor resident who moved to the area seven years ago, has been one of the leaders of the incorporation push. He argues that incorporating into West Weber Community will give locals more control over their land and growth.

"For me, it all has to do with local representation," Bell said. "Currently, all the unincorporated areas of Weber County do not have any kind of local representation for any of our land use. It's all managed by the county commission, which is a three-member commission, and we just don't have enough votes to sway that seat."

Bell said the county commission last year raised the tax for municipal services in unincorporated areas. He said he understands why that decision was necessary, but "the thought was, if we're going to be treated like a city, and taxed like a city, why not have some say over what that city looks like with local representation?"

Incorporation opponents argue taxes will have to increase even more if West Weber Community is formed. Some don't quite trust the numbers provided in the 2019 incorporation feasibility study from Zions Public Finance.

"And I'm just like, 'Well, show me,'" Bell counters. "Where's your study?"

The case against incorporation

Tom Favero, a Plain City farmer with land in the proposed incorporation area, created the Keep Weber Western group with his brother, Andrew, to oppose the creation of a new city. He said incorporation will create more taxes and expenses than his opponents acknowledge.

Favero said he spoke to Hooper residents about what incorporation meant for them. Hooper — a town of about 9,000 residents just south of the proposed West Weber — incorporated in 2000. "All the farmers and people down there say, 'Wow, it was the worst thing we ever did,'" Favero said. He argues that incorporating would create far more taxes and expenses than the increasing tax on municipal services the area is currently paying.

And Favero said he's "sure" the area will be developed more slowly if it stays unincorporated. Preserving the rural character of the community — for as long as possible — is a major concern of many residents on both sides of the incorporation issue. "Look at the cities around us," Favero said. West Haven, for example. "Their charter said, 'We want to keep this (agricultural). We want to keep Roy and Ogden city out.' How long did that last?"

Plain City Mayor Jon Beesley also doesn't think the feasibility study is taking everything into account, though he said he supports West Weber incorporation. He said the study "lacks some realism."

"What I'm spending in a quarter" in Plain City, Beesley said, "is their whole budget for the year. So that leads me to question because their city's going to be four or five times larger in area. ... I don't really see how their expenses are going to be so much less than mine."

The feasibility study said West Weber Community would have a population of 4,663 people spread over 103.4 square miles, though much of that mileage is in the Great Salt Lake. The annexation of Warren by Plain City would drop that number by about 400 residents.

Familiar places

Some residents of Warren, already feeling a connection to Plain City as the community where they work and go to school, have petitioned to join that city rather than a brand new one. Beesley told KSL.com that annexation is pretty much a done deal.

"The annexation will happen," Beesley said. The city posted a public notice of the annexation petition on Thursday, along with a map of the area to be annexed; Beesley anticipates the annexation will be complete in December.

The annexation plan has come under fire from incorporation supporters, who say it is changing the rules in the middle of the game. It would redraw the boundaries of the new city, affecting everything from its population to its tax base.

But after intervention from the state Legislature and a Utah Supreme Court ruling, the incorporation vote was allowed to proceed with annexation pending. Voters are simply being warned that the final boundaries of the proposed West Weber may change.

The neighboring city of West Haven is also mulling a much smaller annexation, according to the Standard-Examiner.

"I support their initiative" to incorporate in West Weber, Beesley said. "But I also support the people of Warren who have chosen to annex into something that they already know."

In addition to the question on incorporation, western Weber County voters are also being asked to select a form of government and whether city council members should be elected by district. The vote is expected to be close, with neither Bell nor Favero expressing confidence in the outcome one way or another.

Beesley said this is "one of those scenarios where nobody's wrong."

"I don't feel like anybody is out for a selfish reason at all," he said. "It's just kind of how the cards are falling."

Residents will find out their fate in early November.

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