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Newly incorporated town of Brighton to hold first municipal election

BRIGHTON — The town of Brighton will have nine candidates vying for four council seats and three mayoral hopefuls on its first primary ballot since the community of 260 residents voted to incorporate as a town.

The election will narrow candidates down to two per seat to advance to the general election on Nov. 5, which will establish Utah's newest town's first municipal government.

Candidates say so far the race is anything but competitive.

A car drives past a sign at the entrance of Brighton on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Brighton is preparing to hold its first municipal election after voting to incorporate in November.
A car drives past a sign at the entrance of Brighton on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Brighton is preparing to hold its first municipal election after voting to incorporate in November.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

"Life is hard in the mountains, you've got to rely on your neighbors," said mayoral candidate Danial Knopp, adding that if an opponent "called me up and said 'Hey, can you help me with my driveway,' I'd be up there with one of my tractors blowing his driveway out."

Collaborative efforts are not only limited to neighborly support. Candidates say they have also been collectively navigating the transition to a municipal government. Since January, all candidates on the ballot have participated in monthly transition meetings at the local fire station.

Because the town has yet to establish a town hall, the transition board has explored the option of leasing offices at the station once the council forms.

Keith Garner, spokesman for the Unified Fire Authority, confirmed that the community council and transition board had been using the space free of charge, but noted that office use by an official municipal council would have to be approved by the United Fire District Board and a lease would need to be negotiated.

Council candidate Bob Cameron said one of the primary issues the new government would face, and one the transition meetings are currently focused on, is emergency funding. He said the issue of where funding for the town's emergency services would come from has been "the elephant in the room" during community meetings.

A recent University of Utah study predicted 3 million people will visit Big Cottonwood Canyon by 2040. When comparing that number with a resident population of 260, many candidates feel footing the bill for emergency services is out of their means.

Currently, Brighton's emergency services are supported by Salt Lake County's general fund dollars for regional district services, but the future of public safety funds for the newly incorporated town remains uncertain.

Passed during this year's legislative session, SB187 extended sunset of the Mountainous Planning Commission — which covers zoning decisions for Brighton and other mountainous areas — to 2021 and provided language allowing the county to continue covering emergency services for incorporated areas that are designed recreational.

A view looking down on Brighton on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Brighton is preparing to hold its first municipal election after voting to incorporate in November.
A view looking down on Brighton on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Brighton is preparing to hold its first municipal election after voting to incorporate in November.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

The continued support for Brighton's public safety budget will be up to the Salt Lake County Council.

"What we'd like to see is to have an interlocal agreement with Salt Lake County, that they would continue the regional district services," said Cameron. "Our hope is that they will realize that it's in their best interest to have public safety for the almost 2 million visitors that come up here every year."

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a prepared statement, "I am planning on making a recommendation to the Salt Lake County Council that we continue funding the canyon public safety needs for the year 2020 in a similar amount to what the county allocated for this purpose in 2019."

Having a seat at the table, which had been a key argument for incorporation, is why many residents say they are running. While candidates expressed satisfaction with the Mountainous Planning Commission, of which four Brighton residents are members, many noted they felt unrepresented on issues of taxation, traffic and toilets.

"We believe the town of Brighton has not been represented as well as possible. For the better of Big Cottonwood Canyon and our town for a long period of time," said council candidate Bruce Engelhard.

Don Despain, mayoral candidate and member of the Mountainous Planning Commission, agrees.

"Brighton has been had residents since 1870s, and we've been unincorporated all that time, and as the county has grown larger, their roles and duties have changed," he said, emphasizing that when it comes to decisions made by the county around fire, police, garbage or watershed, "we have never had a real functional seat at the table."

Engelhard noted the lack of toilets on highly trafficked canyon trails and lamented the impact that human waste has on the watershed as a result. Candidates discussed redirecting taxes toward improving infrastructure for the canyon, but noted they did not plan to increase property taxes.

Candidate platforms are consistent across the board, with many reinforcing the fact that incorporation and municipal government were a collective effort. They predicted the race would continue to remain friendly and non-competitive during the general elections in November.

"We didn't want to be putting yard signs up in people's yards and have people picking sides, so we all came to the agreement that we were just going to keep it very simple, stick to the basics and all be on the same page," said Knopp.

In addition to Knopp and Despain, Wade Lambert has also filed to run for mayor. Candidates Logan Cookler, Jeffery Bossard, Thomas Loken, Phil Lanouette, Jenna Malone, Keith Zuspan and Carolyn Keigley will join Engelhard and Cameron in running for council.