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Depending on who you ask, Utah's new incorporation law is either the road to self-determination or a recipe for chaos.

While the governor signed the bill into law Tuesday night, the Mount Olympus Community Council was putting together a committee to consider its future under the new law.Carrie Dickson told more than 50 people gathered that she would pass around a sheet so interested citizens could sign up.

She scribbled "annexation" at the top of the sign-up sheet.

"I don't like that at all," one man complained. "Put `annexation/township,' " a woman suggested.

"Put `township/incorporation' " another countered.

"This is what happened at the Legislature," Sen. Dave Buhler, R-Olympus Cove, muttered as the council debated over what to title the committee sign-up sheet.

That brief argument may be a portent of wars to come. The new law offers three choices to unincorporated parts of counties in Utah: They can annex into an existing city, create their own city or become a township. If any one community were ever of a single mind, the abundant options would be a gift.

But the petitions for incorporation that already overlap each other point to the tug of war over destiny likely to wrench some Utah communities.

Choice isn't the most chaotic element of the bill. Politicians and the public are baffled by vague language that opens the door to thousands of townships and doesn't clearly outline how counties should handle warring bids for annexations, townships and incorporations involving the same land.

"There's no minimum to the number of townships," Buhler warned his constituents. "You and your two neighbors can form a township and have a planning commission for those three houses."

Well, not quite, county officials say after scanning the law.

But the law allows for a township per voting district since 50 percent of the signatures in a voting district is all that's needed to create one.

"There are more than 200 voting districts in Salt Lake County and literally each voting district could be come a township. Now that's not probable, but it's possible," said Salt Lake County Commissioner Brent Overson.

"If I could be assured there would be only one township per community council, I would sleep better at nights."

The county must figure out a procedure quickly for dealing with competing petitions for the same land. The law requires the county to consider competing incorporation petitions simultaneously. But it creates more problems then it solves when it comes to competing incorporation, township and annexation petitions.

Trump card?

A township petition can trump an existing incorporation petition, putting the incorporation on hold while the township goes to vote, said Deputy Salt Lake County Attorney Gavin Anderson.

But a second incorporation can be filed after the township petition, trumping the township and putting it on hold while the second incorporation goes forward, he explained.

"It has trump on top of trump on top of trump, and I'm not sure which is the trump suit," Anderson said.

With various incorporation petitions already warring over the same tax-rich commercial strips, Anderson thinks the new law could make the ugly even uglier.

"I would not be surprised to see an incorporation, then a township on top of that, then another incorporation on top of that and another township on top of that. You may have it stacked two or four deep."

Filing a petition for a township is also a quick way to put an annexation on hold, since a township also trumps an annexation, Anderson said. Salt Lake County Attorney Doug Short believes a hasty township could put Midvale's annexation of the Fort Union Family Cen-ter on hold.

The law also fails to outline clearly the procedure for filing a township petition.

One of the first things the county will do before the law takes effect April 29 is outline the procedure for filing a township and try to sort out the confusing language about which kind of petition takes precedent, Overson said. County officials believe the law gives them enough leeway to do that.

County officials also have to decide how much control the township's planning and zoning com-mis-sions might have. The townships may form seven member commissions. Three members are elected by the township, three selected by the county commission and a seventh chosen by the other six.

Setting rules

The law allows the county commission to set up the rules and procedures for the township planning and zoning commissions, said Sen. Steve Poulton, R-Salt Lake City. "There is a lot of rumor going around that citizens can lock up their community to any future development. That just couldn't happen," Poulton said. "The county commission has tremendous power in any decision they make."

But it's not clear if the commission has the same veto power over the township commissions that it has over its own planning and zoning commission. No one is saying they can't have veto power.

Legislative researchers say county commissioners could " `arguably' have veto power, whatever that means," Poulton said.

Its a gray area in the law that may end up in court if the county commission claims veto power and a township wants to challenge that, Poulton said. "Legislative research told me they felt like the county commission would have the stronger case."

Besides drafting a battery of procedures, the county must promptly move forward on feasibility studies for the five pending incorporations.

The county has declared The Cottonwoods and White City incorporation petitions invalid. However, two petitions from the Holladay area, the Kearns, Magna and Fort Union/Cottonwood petitions are still awaiting county action.

Under this new law, Salt Lake County has 90 days to hire a consultant to do feasibility studies on the petitions and the consultant has another 90 days to do the studies, Anderson said.

After that six-month span, the county will need another two or three weeks to hold public hearings on the proposals.

Anderson estimates any of the five petitions could be ready for general vote as soon as January or February if everything goes briskly.

On hold

The law also leaves citizens bewildered and overwhelmed. Communities that were looking to incorporate are now looking at townships.

"We've been put on hold for so long nobody has any faith the county will do anything," said Wendy Brooks, who is in charge of Kearns' two-year effort to become a city.

Officials from Kearns and Magna, which have battled over boundaries and borders in the their crossover annexation efforts, both said they'll probably start township petitions when the bill goes into effect April 29.

"The whole situation is so very complex and the bill itself is so confusing that we need to look at it and see what it would do to us," said Steve Harris, vice president of the Magna Area Community Council and chairman of the Magna incorporation committee.


The governor's actions this week sent communities in the valley's southwesternmost regions scrambling for cover under the law.

In Riverton, where officials are more than halfway through the process of annexing to 5600 West, the law gives Mayor Sandra Lloyd little pause.

"We are hoping to move right ahead with our proposed annexation," she said.

However, the law puts all annexations on hold for 120 days after April 29, Short said.

It's still unclear to everyone what that means to several major annexations in progress.

While some Herriman opponents of the annexation believe the law puts a hold on the city's effort, Lloyd doesn't think so. The area under proposal isn't part of any current incorporation effort like those filed with the county by Kearns or Magna or anyone else, she said.

Riverton was scheduled to vote on the annexation a few weeks ago, but the City Council said it would wait 30 days to make final changes to finalize the move, strongly opposed by Herriman residents.

Bob Bowles, a Herriman resident who's given public opposition to Riverton's annexation effort, said the law means more protection for him and the 200 acres he farms, but he's not exactly sure how.

Because the law's details are sketchy, people like Bowles rely on conversations they've heard. Overall, anecdotal evidence seems to indicate more protections against en-croachment.

"Gov. Leavitt signed the bill, and bless his heart, he did the right thing," Bowles said.

"We want to be in rural Salt Lake County," Bowles said.

The "wall-to-wall cities" buzz phrase is hogwash, he said. "We still need some open space. We've got to have some farming somewhere in this state."

The concept of wall-to-wall cities certainly took a hit with this new law, disappointing mayors who had been eying prime pieces of the unincorporated county for possible annexation.

"It really doesn't allow for the kind of unification of the county that everyone had hoped for . . . to be wall-to-wall cities," said Mike Siler, Midvale city manager.

"Instead of making sense out of the whole valley with wall-to-wall cities, (the law) really compounds the problems, we feel, and we're hearing that from Salt Lake City and other people."

That's not how Bowles and hundreds of other residents see it. The law gives the people more power to halt annexations by creating townships or gathering enough signatures to opt out of an annexation.

Under the new law, if a city wants to annex property in a township, it must get the approval of that township's planning and zoning commission. That makes future raids on prime commercial plots unlikely.


The law also has attracted the attention of the 800-member community of Copperton, home of Kennecott Copper.

Stretched across about 100,000 acres in the southwest valley, Kennecott is the dream resident for every westside city.

It provides a significant chunk of the county's budget, and several communities within a several-mile radius have laid informal dibs on parts of the property.

Kennecott doesn't want to be part of any city and Kennecott lobbyists persuaded lawmakers to add an amendment to the law that protected it and Hercules from being unwilling victims of annexation or incorporations.

Kennecott has been concerned about fracturing the tax base or falling into several municipalities, said Louie Cononelos, director of of government and public affairs at the company. "It creates real difficulties and it puts the county at a disadvantage," he said.

Kennecott provides its own services, he said, so it doesn't make sense to be included in a city.

"We feel the same way about annexation that we do about incorporation. . . . We don't want to be captured and subdivided."

Few people in Copperton work at the mine anymore, and most residents there are retired, but resident Ross Pino thinks the law will help the area protect its heritage and boundaries.

There's a hamburger joint in Copperton, a convenience store, a few antique and souvenir shops. Kennecott is the big attraction to the area, and Pino and other residents feel under constant threat of annexation.

In its meeting next week, Copperton's seven-member community council will talk about the law and get on top of annexation efforts in surrounding areas.

"If they (any city) did annex us it would just be to serve their good purposes, not ours," Pino said. "The county takes good care of us."

East side

While people on the west side of the county are anxious to preserve their unincorporated status, groups on the east side have been falling over themselves to incorporate, throwing chunks of prime east-side land into several petition boundaries.

The new law troubles some incorporation supporters because they fear a small group will delay their incorporation effort by filing for a township.

Others are taking a second look at incorporation, now that they have the chance to create a township instead.

Delpha Baird has led the fight to create a large Holladay city that would span all the unincorporated land in the middle of the valley, east of the freeway.

But now, she's hesitating. Baird met with her community council for several hours Thursday night. Afterward, she said her group would be prepared to make an announcement of some sort in a few days.

Olympus Hill's growing interest in a township could halt Baird's incorporation move, since Olympus Hills falls within her incorporation boundaries.

Linda Norton has lead the drive for a smaller city in the Holladay area. Her drive is commonly called the "Holladay 1" petition. "For the present, we are pushing forward with an incorporation. We will ask the commission Monday to start our feasibility study immediately. There is no reason not to go forward." There are no plans that she knows of to create a township in that area, which could halt her incorporation drive, she said.

Leaders of The Cottonwoods incorporation drive are determined to be a city, regardless of the county's claim that their petition is invalid. The group is now looking at a township as a start for its city. "We may use a township as a vehicle and form a city later. But we aren't content with just being a township," said Tom Nelson, incorporation leader.

His group would also form a township to make sure that Baird's larger Holladay incorporation move can't move forward. "We don't want to be swallowed up in a large city."



Townships have well-established history in U.S.

Townships date back a century or more in many Northeastern and Midwestern states. Nevada is the only Western state using townships. Here are a few examples of how township governments operate according to the U.S. Census Bureau:


The civil townships in Iowa are distinct geographical areas. Except in areas were civil townships border cities, an elected board of township trustees governs each township. Iowa townships may provide fire protection, cemeteries, community centers and township halls. Township trustees also serve as fence viewers and resolve animal trespass problems upon request.

Although Iowa township trustees may levy taxes, and may issue anticipatory bonds, the compensation of township trustees (other than fees) is paid by the county government.


Township governments exist in 85 of the 87 Minnesota counties. In those counties that have township governments, township governments do not cover the entire area of such counties. All unorganized territory and some, but not all, cities, exist outside the area served by any township government. In recent years, some township governments in Minnesota have been dissolved.

A number of metropolitan area towns, or urban towns, have powers similar to those of municipal governments under special powers granted by the Minnesota law.

North Dakota

Some 1,350 township governments exist in 48 of the 53 North Dakota counties. In the counties that have township governments, these governments do not cover the entire county area; cities and unorganized territory exist outside the area of any township. Some township governments in North Dakota have been dissolved in recent years. The governing body is an elected township board.