The Salt Lake County Council gave its stamp of approval to final council district boundaries Tuesday for the communities of Millcreek, Copperton, Emigration Canyon, Kearns, Magna, and White City.
After a years-long campaign by some residents urging incorporation, Millcreek became Salt Lake County’s 17th city on November 3 when 66 percent of voters in that area approved the creation of the new city.
The result was a complete turnaround from three years ago; in 2012, following a particularly contentious campaign, the measure was defeated by nearly 5,000 votes. The other five areas opted to remain under the county’s purview as metro townships.
Voters were given the chance decide whether they wanted to incorporate or remain townships thanks to SB 199 Local Government Revisions, which was sponsored by Senator Karen Mayne (Democrat – West Valley City) and set the stage for November’s election. Dubbed the “Community Preservation Act,” the bill set up the metro township form of government, called for the metro township versus city proposal to be placed on the ballot, created the governance structure for the Municipal Services District (MSD), and enacted measures to prevent metro townships or cities from being annexed. The legislation was passed during the 2015 General Session and subsequently signed by Governor Gary Herbert.
“It’s been a long road to get this point, and we wouldn’t have gotten here without the dedication and hard work of the residents living in these communities. Township residents are in the middle of establishing their new forms of government that will mean better local representation while maintaining the unique characters of each community,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
With district boundaries now in place, campaign season can kick into motion. The candidate filing period will begin January 4, 2016, ending March 17th. Elections will take place in November 2016, with winning candidates taking office the following January. Until city officials are installed, the county council will continue to act as the governing legislative body and serve as the MSD Board of Trustees.
The MSD board oversees the delivery of municipal services to townships, unincorporated areas, and cities that contract with the county for services. At that point, the board will be made up of each metro township council chair, a member of the Millcreek City Council, two representatives from the county council, and the Mayor McAdams as the district executive.
The metro townships will consist of five council representative districts, while Millcreek is set to have four. The mayor, elected at-large, will chair the council. Metro township councils will have the power to enact local ordinances and oversee local municipal services. Funding for metro townships will be derived through sales taxes collected in the metro townships and the unincorporated areas. The MSD board will adopt a budget for each area and distribute the money accordingly.
Concerning municipal services, the Millcreek City Council will have the three options to choose from. Within six months, they can opt out of the Municipal Services District, remain independent but contract with the MSD for some services, or provide municipal services themselves.
For proponents of incorporation, the main issue is keeping decision-making at the local level. Residents, as opposed to county officials, are better off deciding where their tax dollars are spent, some say. Advocates point to a study conducted by Zions Bank Public Finance, which found that Millcreek generates more sales tax revenue than costs incurred for municipal services.
Opponents of incorporation disagree.
Chris Stout, a Millcreek resident and an active participant in local political circles, has been against the creation of Millcreek City since 2012. He has doubts about whether Millcreek can succeed without seriously raising property taxes – even if the city maintains a contract with the county to provide municipal services. “I believe that the proponents of incorporation improperly determined that current township residents are putting more tax dollars into the system than what it is currently receiving.”
Upon entering office, Stout believes the new mayor and city council will need to focus on keeping costs low and maintaining the current service levels that are furnished by the county. “Providing municipal services that are currently being provided by the county without raising taxes should be the priority for the mayor and city council. The secondary issue will be maintaining the current service levels while accounting for cost of living adjustments for new city employees, such as police and fire.”
One thing to consider, though, is voter turnout. In 2012, 89 percent of Millcreek residents cast ballots. In 2015, only 55 percent did so. With that low voter turnout in mind, it will be interesting to see how residents respond to these impending changes. “The mayor and city council will have to realize quickly that most residents within the new city boundaries really wanted to stay under the county umbrella. I imagine that if pro-city candidates are elected, there will major friction from the beginning,” Stout concluded.
All of this begs the question: Do Millcreek residents have cause for optimism or a case for despair? Will Millcreek become a shining city on a hill or a mini-Detroit with mountains? Only time will tell.