Editor’s note: As the Nov. 3 election draws near, the Daily Universe is exploring different national and local issues impacting voters in a series of stories.
Utah County voters will have a chance to vote on Proposition 9 that proposes an executive-council form of county government, which would change the three member commission that’s been in place ever since Utah became a state in 1896.
“Utah County shall be governed by an elected county executive (the Utah County Mayor), an elected county council (consisting of five members),” the voter information pamphlet says about the proposition.
The pamphlet explains that the county mayor will be elected through the “partisan election process” and will have all duties, powers and functions of a county executive. The elected county council will function as the county legislative body.
Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee, who is against Prop 9, said this new form of government creates an imbalance of power compared to the three commissioner government Utah County currently has.
“No longer do you have checks between each other as the commissioners. Now you’ve got a mayor with total executive power, and they have veto power over the legislative body,” Lee said.
Commissioner Tanner Ainge said Prop 9 introduces a form of government that will increase the check on power because the executive is accountable to the council, which provides a healthy check and balance. Ainge claimed that having 3 “CEOs” for any organization is a bad idea, and there needs to be a better separation between legislative and executive powers.
“I think there’s more balance because you have five council members that the executive reports to. Right now there’s no balance because the legislative and executive powers are merged into the same three people,” Ainge said.
Lee said Prop 9 may increase taxes due to a need for more staff members. He said Salt Lake County, which has a mayor-council form of government, has thirty staff members. Utah County currently only has three elected officials and three senior policy advisors.
“There’s so much work that needs to be done, and they want to take that down and say okay now you got a mayor and a staff member, and then all these part time people doing it. The workload calculation does not work,” Lee said.
The only way for the government to get more money is to either raise taxes or cut services, therefore Lee said they will eventually raise taxes to make up for the lack of staff members.
Ainge said Prop 9 has no impact on taxes, “the cost of the mayor-council is lower than the cost of the 3 member commission. So, there’s no financial impact whatsoever, other than some cost savings.”
“It was endorsed by 20 of the 22 mayors of the cities in the county and by the majority of state legislators. And I think with all of the overwhelming support, and the recommendation from the independent committee, Commissioner Ivie and I were willing to go ahead and put this on the ballot to let the people decide,” Ainge said.
Lee said usually when a county changes their form of government, it can take years to appear on the ballot, however this one has become a “bumper sticker, quick election process” that could be a potential form of “whiplash government.”
“I think it’s a disservice to the people of the county because a lot of them when we started putting our signs out saying no to Prop 9, they would say, ‘what’s this all about?’ When you’re changing your form of government I think people should know. It should be something that’s a deliberate action, not just a campaign,” Lee said.