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Will county council plan lead to boundary war?

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The fate of the proposed plan for changing Salt Lake County government may rest on how proposed county council voting districts are drawn.

A citizen committee that has been working on the plan presented its final proposal to the County Commission last week. The plan would split the current three-commissioner form of government into a nine-member council with one executive. It was generally well-received by the commissioners, but Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said he's concerned about council voting districts."If we were to tinker with the boundaries, would that cause World War III?" he wondered.

This is what's bothering him: Only one of the six districts (three council members would be elected at-large) has a majority of unincorporated residents. Hori-uchi is worried that those residents would thus be denied a fair say in how they are governed.

The problem is of particular significance because residents of the unincorporated areas are the ones who are most directly affected by the council's actions. The county acts as a pseudo-city to the unincorporated areas, providing basic municipal services - garbage collection, road repair and the like. With only one council member beholden to a majority of unincorporated residents in his district, the rest of the council could pass ordinances regarding the unincorporated county that they would not have to live with themselves.

"It's sort of taxation without representation," Horiuchi said. "It would be like guys in New Hampshire passing laws that affect only Utah."

Horiuchi generally doesn't like the idea of changing the form of government but was partially appeased last summer when the commission first voted to put a proposed change on the ballot but later changed its mind. He was mollified because council districts were drawn in a way that two council districts had a majority of unincorporated residents.

The citizen committee considered that district alignment but rejected it. Committee members initially believed their proposed district alignment did include two districts with a majority of unincorporated residents, but after doing some research, Chairman Bruce Jones found that was not the case.

While Horiuchi may be able to influence his fellow commissioners to change the district boundaries somewhat, the plan, modified or not, will probably make it to voters. Commissioners Brent Overson and Mary Callaghan say they favor letting county residents choose whether they want to scrap the current system. Nonetheless, they are taking a one-step-at-a-time approach at present.

Should the commission move forward with the plan, the process would be this: The commission would adopt an "initiation resolution," which would formally start the process. There would then be one or more public hearings, after which the commission, should it decide to proceed, would adopt a final resolution to put the question on the Nov. 3 ballot. That would have to be done before Sept. 3.

The commission is scheduled to adopt an initiation resolution Wednesday.

Voters would then accept or reject the proposal by a simple majority. Should they accept it, the first election for the new officers would be held in November 2000, and the new government would become effective at noon, Jan. 1, 2001.

When the County Commission formed the citizen committee last fall, it opted for one that was strictly advisory. The commission does not have to accept the committee's recommendations if it doesn't want to. The commission could have chosen to form a "statutory committee," which would have bound the commission to accept its recommendations, but commissioners (with the notable exception of Overson) questioned that.