FARMINGTON — Stephen Hunter, who represents Davis County as a lobbyist, says he's excited to push Northern Utah interests during what may be a pivotal 2020 legislative session.

A lot of state infrastructure money is likely to be on the table, and the county wants lawmakers to address major needs such as the worsening traffic bottlenecks on U.S. 89 and Interstate 15, officials said in interviews last week.

The Davis County Commission apparently is excited as well, having boosted Hunter and Company Communications LLC's lobbying contract by $5,750 for the balance of this year.

Further, commissioners voted Sept. 17 to extend Hunter's contract through 2020, increasing the expected annual payout to $69,000, up $20,000 from the previous deal.

Hunter said the additional money will help him engage more lobbying help on Capitol Hill during the 2020 session.

"They feel there's a real window here in Northern Utah right now to really capitalize on opportunities at the Legislature," Hunter said. "The budgets look good."

Chasing infrastructure funding and other goals "takes a lot of work" and having more help could make a difference.

"It's not something that I asked for," he said of the contract increase. "They saw it as something that would be good for the county."

Commissioner Bob Stevenson, who brought the contract bump to the commission for a vote, said the Utah legislative process has become so complex, the county must be stronger during the session.

He said he would like the county to emulate the heavy lobbying presence Layton City has been able to accomplish at the Capitol. Before joining the commission, Stevenson was Layton's mayor.

Asked who broached the subject of increasing Hunter's contract, Commission Chairman Randy Elliott said, "It was kind of all of us looking at it."

While past practice of managing lobbyists focused mostly on the will of the commission,  Elliott said the current commission wants to involve more county department heads in discussing lobbying priorities with Hunter.

"So it made sense to us to make him do more, and we have the power to help him out," Elliott said.

The county would like its share from a state bonding package next year, he said, mentioning hopes for a major I-15 rebuild in Davis.

Lorene Kamalu, who like Stevenson is new on the commission this year, said she questioned the idea of a larger lobbying contract when it came up in a work session.

She acknowledged the axiom that a lobbyist can be in just one place at a time while action is raging on multiple fronts at the Capitol. 

"I have been very pleased with the work of our lobbyist," Kamalu said, but added she thinks the county's 10 elected officials and its department heads should be more involved.

"I wasn't sure that we needed more people being paid to lobby," she said. "There is only so much money and we all know we have to prioritize."

When the commission approved the new contract, Kamalu was out of town representing the county at a regional convention.

She said she did not know it would be on the agenda, and she said she would have voted against it had she been there.

The commission approved the contract on a 2-0 vote, Stevenson and Elliott both voting yes, after minimal discussion.

"I know we won't always agree, and that's healthy," Kamalu said.

County Clerk-Auditor Curtis Koch said the lobbyist contract "is one of the areas in (the commission's) discretion."

"I feel the value is there," Koch said. "I have no issue with our lobbyist."

Hunter, who grew up in Ogden and now lives in Layton, said he's passionate about representing Northern Utah at the Capitol. He also holds a lobbying contract with Weber County.

"My roots are here, and it's rare to get an opportunity to really dig into your hometown and your home roots and help them do some good," Hunter said. 

"Lobbying gets a bad name a lot of times," Hunter said. "But I am super passionate about Weber and Davis counties."

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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