Stepping across a weathered log bridge over Little Cottonwood Creek, Richard Walsh stops in the middle of a large tomato patch and points to the rest of the family farm on the opposite side of the freeway.
"We've got about an acre over there, but it's landlocked," Walsh said, raising his voice over the din of the passing traffic. "When I was growing up, we used to have 18,000 tomato plants in this section; now we're down to about 2,500."After the state carved out a 3.5-acre swath for the I-215 belt route, the Walsh family was left with about six acres, including the landlocked acre on the other side of the road.
"I don't remember all the details; they (the state) just took what they wanted," Walsh said. "They cut up the property."
Walsh fears that what happened to the family farm 20 years ago will happen to Union within the next two or three years. Sandy will probably carve out the tax-rich southern and eastern sections, with Midvale slicing off the well-established west end and Murray picking up any scraps.
The only way to prevent it, according to Walsh, is to do as Union's original settlers did when their territory was threatened - "fort up."
But while the pioneers defended their settlement with massive walls 12 feet high and 6 feet thick, Walsh said today's settlers need something more impenetrable: municipal walls.
Though a Union City has been discussed for decades, the latest and most determined incorporation drive began at a town meeting in the Union Lions Club building on Sept. 14, 1992. Residents and community leaders gathered to air concerns about the expansion of the Family Center at Fort Union, the perceived indifference of the Salt Lake County Commission and the growing threat of annexation from neighboring cities.
"There was a sense that our concerns were falling on deaf ears and that the only way we could maintain control of our community would be to incorporate," Walsh said. "I happened to be standing in front of the group when the idea was brought up, and I guess that's why I was asked to head up the effort."
A doctoral candidate in education at Brigham Young University, Walsh said he accepted the assignment because he agreed wholeheartedly with those who argued, "If Union doesn't stay together as a city, it will disappear."
Organizers launched a petition drive in October 1992. By Jan. 12, 1993, they had the 1,100 signatures they needed to formally begin the incorporation process. The action forced the County Commission to conduct a feasibility study, which was completed last month.
After a public hearing scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday in Union Middle School, 615 E. 8000 South, commissioners will set a date for a vote on the issue.
Bordered roughly by I-215, 1300 East, 7800 South and State Street, the proposed Union City would be
the county's 13th municipality. With only 2.8 square miles of territory, it would be the smallest in area, but with 13,684 residents, it would rank as the sixth most populous.
All three county commissioners have remained officially neutral on the proposed incorporation. Kevin Higgins, executive assistant to commission Chairman Jim Bradley and a member of the feasibility study review committee, said commissioners will abide by the wishes of the voters.
"If the voters choose to incorporate, the commission will do everything possible to ease the transition," Higgins added.
He indicated that an analysis of the proposed incorporation shows it would have a "minimal negative impact" on county government, especially if the new city contracts with the county for its major services, including fire and police.
Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said one of his concerns is that those service contracts may never materialize. "The last three to incorporate (West Valley City, Draper and Bluffdale) said they would contract with the county for services, but then they chose not to."
Besides contracting with the county for municipal services or establishing its own, the proposed city could turn to its neighbors. Sandy, Midvale and Murray have all expressed a willingness to provide the basic services for a fee.
Although the county won't stand in the way of incorporation, it must be prepared to deal with the impact on the remaining unincorporated area as well as on the county as a whole, Horiuchi said. The loss of Union, along with the proposed city of The Cottonwoods - which would take with it the Cottonwood Mall, could result in tax increases in the rest of the unincorporated area, he said.
Conducted by Wikstrom Economic & Planning Consultants Inc., the Union feasibility study concluded that tax revenues the county would lose to Union City would be offset by the cost of municipal services it provides to the area.
According to a projected budget prepared by the consultants, the proposed city would have expenditures of about $3.7 million and revenues of about $4 million, including $568,000 from a 6 percent franchise tax. The franchise tax is the only tax hike envisioned for the city, and Walsh said budget adjustments might make it unnecessary.
The bottom line, according to the study, is that "the incorporation of Union is economically feasible." Supported mostly by a strong commercial sales tax base, Union City would have the money it needs to provide a level of services comparable to that of neighboring cities, the consultants said.
No organized opposition has emerged, but there are individual opponents to the proposed incorporation, including Hermes Associates, the developer/owner of the Family Center at Fort Union. As one of the community's largest taxpayers, Hermes is "strongly opposed," said spokesman Perry Vidalakis.
Repeating a slogan that helped kill the Holladay incorporation in 1985, Vidalakis said, "What's the fastest way to raise your taxes? Incorporate." Because of economies of scale, the county can provide better services at a lower cost, he said.
"We believe that the only way to pay for the inefficiencies of a small city is to raise taxes, and that should concern residents and businesses alike," Vidalakis said. "As a taxpayer in the area, we don't want to have our taxes raised just so we can be called Union."
Walsh said he expects the opposition to harp on the tax issue, which he calls a scare tactic. "If I have anything to say about it, incorporation will affect the residents' pocketbooks as little as possible. We're not in this to raise revenues."
And he suggests that Union residents ask themselves whether they want to establish their own tax levels or leave it up to county commissioners or, more likely, the mayors and city councils of neighboring cities.
The feasibility study supports the organizers' fears of annexation, saying, "If this issue goes to election, the Union area residents will in effect choose between being part of the surrounding communities or being a city."
In a letter to the consultants, Sandy city administrator Byron Jorgenson noted that Union has long been included in Sandy's annexation declaration area and that if Union doesn't incorporate, "we will continue to have an interest in annexing the area into our city."
Skip Criner, director of Midvale's development services, said his city's only potential for significant growth "lies to the east, in the area being considered for incorporation." He said if Union doesn't incorporate, Midvale would probably consider "squaring off" its borders along 300 East from Murray to Sandy.
Criner has also asked the County Commission to exclude the six peninsulas in the proposed Union incorporation area, arguing that those areas currently receive services from Midvale and have Midvale addresses. "It only makes sense for them to be in Midvale," he said.
Agreeing with Criner, the consultants suggested that Union's western boundary be established at State Street, leaving the five smaller peninsulas in Midvale.
The remaining peninsula south of 7500 South contains about 12 percent of Union's population and would account for 4.9 percent of Union's property taxes and 6.1 percent of its sales taxes. On the other hand, the area also accounts for 44.2 percent of all the police calls in Union.
"Given the revenue contribution and the potential for extraordinary service costs in the area, the feasibility of the Union incorporation is stronger if it does not include this peninsula," the consultants said.
Walsh said organizers have taken no official position on the peninsulas, but he believes they may be negotiable, depending on how the residents in those areas feel about it. "We want to know what those people want," Walsh said, adding that some have already told him they would prefer joining Union.
The County Commission could rule on the peninsulas before the issue reaches the ballot or let the cities settle it among themselves afterward.
Details aside, Walsh said the issue comes down to community identity and self-rule. Many residents simply feel that the county has sold out Union to developers without regard for the character of the community.
Behind that sentiment is the controversial expansion of the Family Center at Fort Union, the longest running and most contentious redevelopment project in the county's history.
To double the size of the already massive shopping complex, Hermes Associates encroached on the historic site of Union Fort and removed the first home built in Union in 1849.
"That was the heart of Union," said historian Steven K. Madsen, referring to the Jehu Cox house and the remnants of the Union Fort wall that were uprooted by the project.
Taxpayers are helping to pay for the $27.1 million shopping center project through Redevelopment Agency tax-increment financing, which Madsen said adds insult to injury. A Union native himself, Madsen said the loss of the historical assets contributed to the community's determination to preserve what's left of its identity and character.
"They may have ripped out its heart, but there is still much in the community that is recognizable and distinctly Union," Madsen said.
For example, the name itself is ubiquitous, attached to Fort Union Boulevard, Union Park and to civic organizations, schools, churches and businesses throughout the area. Also, a number of residents remain who trace their roots to the Union Fort settlers.
One of them, Louise Green, president of the international society of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, said incorporation may be the only way to preserve what's left of Union's heritage.
County officials "with no sense of history" have been wiping out Union's remarkable legacy, she said, blaming Horiuchi in particular. Horiuchi and Commissioner Brent Overson have supported RDA participation in the Family Center project, while Bradley has generally opposed it.
While also dismayed by the shopping center expansion, Walsh sees a silver lining in the economic benefits it will bring to the proposed city. And he insists incorporation is not an anti-development drive in disguise.
"I'm not opposed to development, but I do think there needs to be a more reasonable approach to it. I don't accept the idea that you have to pave over every bare spot of land," Walsh said. "I also believe that the decisions should be made by people with a vested interest in the community, not a county government that doesn't care."
The issue could be put to a vote sometime between Oct. 31 and Jan. 16 - possibly on the November ballot. If it passes, voters will return to the polls Nov. 7, 1995, to select their municipal officers. Union would become a city on July 1, 1996.
Walsh is convinced residents will support the initiative once they understand the alternative. "Union is going to go out as part of Sandy, Midvale and Murray, or it's going to go out together as a city.
"My hope is that if it becomes a city, Union will develop an even stronger identity and greater sense of community."
Salt Lake Valley cities
CITY DATE INC. POPULATION (1990) SIZE (SQ. MILES) BUDGET
Salt Lake City 1851 159,936 109.0 $103 million
West Valley City 1980 86,976 34.0 26.4 million
Sandy 1893 75,058 20.0 20.3 million
West Jordan 1941 42,892 26.8 13 million
Murray 1902 31,282 9.5 15.6 million
UNION - 13,684 2.8 4 million
South Jordan 1935 12,220 20.1 2.6 million
Midvale 1909 11,886 3.4 4.65 million
Riverton 1948 11,261 8.1 2.1 million
South Salt Lake 1950 10,261 4.5 7 million
Draper 1978 7,257 23.0 2.7 million
Bluffdale 1978 2,152 16.5 615,000
Alta 1936 397 4.02 640,000
Unincorporated - 274,510 455.0 56.3 million*
*Municipal services fund only
1. Bennion 1989 FAILED
2. Taylorsville-Bennion 1988 FAILED
3. Holladay 1985 FAILED
4. Magna 1984 FAILED
5. Taylorsville-Bennion 1983 FAILED
6. Lake Valley City 1982 FAILED
7. West Valley (Dissolution) 1980 FAILED
8. West Valley City 1980 PASSED
9. Urban County 1979 FAILED
10. Bonneville City 1978 FAILED
11. Bluffdale 1978 PASSED
12. Draper 1978 PASSED
13. Granger-Hunter 1978 FAILED