Proposition 1 price tag pegged at nearly $1 million
Changing the form of government in Summit County from a three-member county commission to five councilors with a hired executive manager could cost almost $1 million.
That is according to County Auditor Blake Frazier who says he is bracing for the additional personnel and a County Courthouse retrofit to cost about $750,000 the first year if voters pass Summit County Proposition 1 on Nov. 7.
"It’s less expensive to have elected officials over these things because they are responsible to the people," said Frazier, who blasted the proposal to place the county’s executive powers with a manager who voters cannot elect.
Quick to criticize the plan, Frazier insists a committee charged last year with studying the issue hasn’t realistically detailed the potential costs of changing the form of government.
"That’s the reality, nothing comes free," Frazier said. "Everybody is listening to the proponents and it is being spun differently."
With a split vote, the seven-member study committee recommended citizens opt for the change when voting next week.
Stripping the current commissioners of their executive powers by placing those duties in the hands of a manager would result in more streamlined government with a needed separation of the county’s legislative and executive branches, the plan’s proponents say.
In Summit County the current commission acts as the legislative and executive bodies.
"All on the study group are taxpayers. It is illogical that we would recommend a form of government that costs more without an offsetting benefit," said Pinebrook resident Steve Dougherty, who sat on the form of governance study committee and supports the change. "Again, this is a red herring."
Proposition 1’s opponents are inflating their estimates, he protested.
"I’ve heard this million and $2 million before," Dougherty said. "It’s all crap."
He says he is confident electing two more representatives and hiring a county manager won’t mean a tax hike.
Fearing thoughts of having another boss, county staffers who currently enjoy a "good gig" in Coalville obviously oppose hiring a manager to ferret out governmental waste, Dougherty said.
The executive officer is needed to ensure Summit County’s staff and nearly $45 million budget runs efficiently, he added.
"You don’t have anybody [who is] responsible overall," Dougherty said. "That’s just no way to run a railroad."
Hiring a manager, however, will mean paying someone an annual salary of $150,000, said Kamas resident Dave Ure, a Republican who represents most of Summit County in Utah’s House of Representatives.
After the manager hires a staff, "We’re already over $350,000 and that’s just a starter," said Ure, who is staunchly against the change.
"Where are you going to house them?" he asked.
Additional space would be necessary for the county manager and councilors, Ure said, adding, "Or are you going to build a brand new building in Coalville and fill it full of bureaucrats?"
"I don’t think you’ll get the housing done for less than half a million, just in itself," Ure said.
But it’s too soon to speculate about those costs, Dougherty countered.
"I don’t think Dave Ure has thought it out," he said, adding, "I think he has been fed information by people."
Frazier, who is the county’s chief facilities officer, estimated that remodeling the County Courthouse to suit the new form of government could cost $200,000.
"We wouldn’t have to build a building but we would have to remodel," Frazier said. "It would require creating more office space."
Meanwhile, since Proposition 1 sets the salaries for county councilors
at $1 per year, Frazier says he expects those to be increased by councilors to between $20,000 and $50,000 after they are elected.
"You’re not going to find a councilor that will be willing to work for $1 a year for no benefits," Frazier said. "Add that to the cost of a manager and a staff a facilities and there is going to be a cost increase in government."
The Summit County Commission and its administrator operate currently with an annual budget of roughly $400,000, he said, adding that once established he expects the proposed new form of government to cost more than $600,000 per year.
"It’s going to cost the county at a minimum $400,000 to set up a manager with staff and facilities," Frazier said. "On the low end, between manager and councilors and space, you’re are probably hitting close to three quarters of a million dollars."
The extra funding would require either a tax increase, dipping into surpluses or money being diverted from other programs, he said.
"You lower services in another area by eliminating a snowplow," Frazier explained. "This plan will not increase services unless you go through a tax increase."
Because elected officials in the county oversee many departments, the county manager is expected to spend lots of time supervising planners and the county’s Public Works.
"Yeah, there is a concern about cost," Dougherty said. "But nobody has even come forward and said with facts and figures how it’s going to cost more."
"It’s not possible."
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Single and making less than $64,000? Good luck finding a place to live in Summit County.