An election scheduled for next Wednesday on whether to make The Cottonwoods a city is off.
Third District Judge Homer Wilkinson Friday stayed the election as requested by Salt Lake County. Wilkinson ruled that the electorate would be better served if it voted on the issue after the Utah Supreme Court has decided whether Salt Lake County Commissioners had the authority to deny the election.Earlier this month, Wilkinson ruled the commission did not have the power to veto the election, and ordered county officials to hold the election within the period required by the law, which would be by Jan. 7.
County officials promptly appealed to the Utah Supreme Court and Friday urged Wilkinson to delay the election until the Supreme Court rules on the case.
Not to delay the election would create chaos, said Salt Lake County Attorney Gavin Anderson.
If the court ruled in favor of the county after the election was held, the entire election process would be void or else the court ruling would be void.
The 11-year old statute on incorporation, which contains ambiguous language about the right of a county to deny an election, has never been tested in the Supreme Court, Anderson said. Because the statute has statewide implications, other counties would benefit from the Supreme Court's decision.
The petitioners seeking the election believe the county simply wants to make them "a guinea pig" for the Supreme Court, said Kent Linebaugh, attorney for the supporters of the incorporation.
A delay in the election means both sides would lose the advantage of educated voters, Linebaugh said. Voters have a right to vote on an issue while the feasibility study, public hearings and information pamphlets are fresh on their minds.
However, Wilkinson said the voters would be far more damaged by voting on a major issue before they even know if the election is being legally held.
It's typical for appeals to take months to get a hearing, which means the dispute will likely not be settled for some time.
Residents of the area began talking about breaking away from the county in earnest in 1993 after their property taxes skyrocketed.
A feasibility study showed the city was not only possible but would have surplus revenue of more than $1 million. That figure alarmed county commissioners.
The rest of the county would suffer too much to allow the incorporation to proceed, they decided. The commissioners voted in September against holding an election on the proposal.