Plan to change government still divides county
Summit County residents remain sharply divided about whether the form of government in the area should change.
Though the debate could be a political hot potato during the 2006 campaign, next week, citizens can weigh in about the proposal during the first of two public hearings to discuss the issue.
After meeting for a year, a group of citizens charged by voters with making a recommendation, claims a five-member county council should replace the current Summit County Commission, which consists of three representatives.
Only a handful of counties in the state have switched from the traditional form, which in Summit County would involve hiring an executive to oversee the county’s daily operations and supervise rank-and-file employees.
Staffers who oppose the change, however, say there is already adequate supervision at the County Courthouse.
Before the issue could be studied, voters were asked in 2004 whether a change should be considered.
"The committee was created based on a 60-percent voter approval," said Park City resident Eric Easterly, chair of Summit County’s Form of Governance Committee. "There was a fairly overwhelming majority of Summit County voters that felt the structure of Summit County government needed to be examined."
The committee voted 5-2 to adopt the council/manager form of government.
But most of the county’s voters are from Park City and the Snyderville Basin. The study wouldn’t have taken place had eastern Summit County residents had their way, said County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme, a Democrat.
"I would highly recommend that [voters] don’t support it," said Woolstenhulme, who is against the new plan. "I hope people can see through this thing."
County councils were created in Morgan and Wasatch counties and Woolstenhulme says many of those elected officials would like to change back.
Plus, the committee didn’t consider the costs for remodeling the commission chambers in Coalville to accommodate more people, he added.
"They claim it’s not going to cost any more, well, they’re crazy," Woolstenhulme said. "With the cost of construction nowadays, it’s going to be a major overhaul."
Kamas resident David Ure, a Republican who represents much of Summit County in the State House, also opposes the proposed change.
"I really think the East Side will vote against it," Ure said.
Three-member commissions govern most of the state’s 29 counties, which "works as effectively as the people who are elected," he added.
Ure said the possibility of only serving a two-year term, if the change is adopted, deterred him from running this year for a seat on the Summit County Commission.
To gain a seat on the Summit County Council, sitting commissioners would have to run again. With voter approval, the plan could take effect Jan. 1, 2009, Easterly said.
The Summit County Commission, however, must first place the recommendation on the Nov. 7 ballot.
"I think the county commissioners should submit it to the voters independent of any feelings that they may have," Easterly said.
A public hearing to discuss the plan is scheduled before the Summit County Commission on March 15 at 5 p.m. at the County Courthouse in Coalville. Westsiders will have an opportunity to weigh in during a hearing at the Sheldon Richins Building in Snyderville slated March 22 at 6 p.m.
"We need to hear from the citizens because it is such a significant issue," said Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer, who has expressed support for changing to a five-person board.
He expects the County Commission to vote March 22 on whether to place the plan before voters. Commissioners can no longer modify the proposal and must adopt the recommendation if voters support the plan in November, Richer said.
"If it goes to the voters and the voters don’t approve it, then it’s dead," Easterly said.
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The unemployment rate in Summit County in September rose slightly and the state upwardly revised the August figure, evidence job gains in the Park City-area have largely stalled.