With 12 cities in place and boiling over their borders, two more in the oven and several others simmering on back burners, is Salt Lake County's goose cooked?
"Not yet," said Commissioner Randy Horiuchi. "Even if we lose Union and Cottonwoods to incorporation, we'll still have an unincorporated county of 250,000 people."That's comparable to Salt Lake City and West Valley City-- Utah's largest and second largest cities-- combined.
According to Horiuchi, "a lot of other things will have to happen" before the county needs to take any bold and drastic action, such as changing its form of government.
Others are not so sure. Richard Walsh, who is leading the Union incorporation drive, predicts that if Union becomes a city, other unincorporated communities will quickly follow suit.
The reason, according to Walsh, is that everyone will then recognize that the choice is no longer between staying unincorporated or incorporating.
"The ones that don't incorporate will be annexed into other cities; it's as simple as that," Walsh said. "Wall-to-wall cities are inevitable."
As president of the Salt Lake County Council of Governments, Commission Chairman Jim Bradley last year attempted to come to terms with the issue by asking all the existing cities to map out their "proposed borders."
The result was a map showing border-to-border and border-overlapping-border cities from one end of the valley to the other. In other words, even without any new cities, the unincorporated county appears doomed to dissolution through annexation, according to the annexation policies of the cities.
Union is a good example. Sandy and Midvale have made it clear that if Union doesn't incorporate, they will eventually take steps to annex the area.
In a letter to Union incorporation consultants, Sandy administrator Byron Jorgenson wrote, "Sandy city is very supportive of the wall-to-wall cities concept. This is the only way to provide efficient services to the citizens."
While wall-to-wall cities would put an end to the county's municipal services business, countywide government functions would probably survive, though perhaps under a different form of management.
One of the more popular ideas among local elected officials is to replace the County Commission with a county council made up of all the mayors of the cities along with representatives of geographic areas.
Horiuchi says it's too early to talk about such changes because most residents of the unincorporated area are in no hurry to become city-zens. Because of its size, the county can offer them better municipal services at a lower cost, Horiuchi said.
Kevin Higgins, Bradley's executive assistant and a member of the Union incorporation feasibility review committee, agrees with Horiuchi that wall-to-wall cities are not imminent.
"Clearly, what we're seeing at work here are some cross-tendencies," Higgins said. "On the one hand, there is a natural movement toward local control-- or a pro-city movement-- and counter to that is a rational pursuit of shared services because of the economies of scale."
In effect, the county's residents may be seeking more countywide services under local control, he said. For example, he noted that the Union City proposal includes use of county services. Also, some of the existing cities are seeing the wisdom of buying into shared services such as police and fire protection, animal control and some public works functions, he added.
"They might be taking us to a vulcanized government, but at the same time, developing a county-wide system of services," Higgins said.
Working against the trend, however, is what Horiuchi calls "turfdom." He coined the phrase two weeks ago when his proposal for a countywide road maintenance system was shot down by a unanimous vote of the mayors.
In a letter to the county commissioners, the mayors wrote, "The local jurisdiction is better equipped to perform maintenance and determine priorities."
According to Union's Walsh, at the community level, the County Commission is not viewed as local government. "They don't represent our interests; they represent the county."