OGDEN — Jim Harvey is seeking his second term as a Weber County commissioner, focused on fiscal responsibility and taking a businesslike approach to governance.
Attention to spending, he says, is “huge. It’s critical because I hate property taxes.”
He faces a challenge from Alex McDonald, a Democrat and recent retiree making his first bid for elective office with a message about maximizing the potential among the county’s residents. Unemployment and poverty rates in Weber County rank among the highest along the Wasatch Front while the median household income figure is the lowest, said McDonald, a retiree. It worries him.
“It just seems like we should be doing much better than we have,” said McDonald.
The seat C post now held by Harvey, first elected in 2016, is an at-large position, meaning the officeholder represents the entire county. As such, voters across Weber County will weigh in, with voting culminating Nov. 3. The two other commission posts, held by Gage Froerer and Scott Jenkins, Republicans like Harvey, aren’t up for grabs this cycle.
County commissioners hold executive and legislative powers in the county, creating policies and overseeing their implementation. Much of what they oversee impacts the unincorporated corners of the county, though county government functions have impact in cities as well.
Before seeking election to the county commission seat, Harvey had long worked for the county as general manager for 22 years of the county-owned Golden Spike Event Center. He also runs a business, The Vac Guy, and the county’s finances at the time, with reserves dwindling in many departments, jumped out as a big concern. He hoped to introduce a more businesslike approach to government management. “They were going bankrupt,” said Harvey, who lives in the Uintah area.
Things are more stable now, and Harvey points to that and what he says are improved relations with other leaders around Weber County as accomplishments. Indeed, he’s got endorsements from the mayors of 14 Weber County cities as well Froerer and Jenkins. “We get along. We agree to disagree and we still agree to work on the problem together,” Harvey said.
As far as specific accomplishments, Harvey points to the commission decision last year to eliminate a retirement perk created in 2014 for elected officials that netted a collective $367,000 for six departing officials. He also noted a property tax shift commissioners approved last year that raises taxes for those living in unincorporated areas, about 6% of the county’s population, and reduces them for the rest of the population, the vast majority. Overall, the shift cuts county property tax collections by around $500,000 a year.
In economic development, Harvey pointed to creation of the Northern Utah Economic Alliance in cooperation with Davis County to promote job creation and growth in the two-county zone. More generally, he touts his leadership style, giving county employees leeway to work and help resolve issues.
“My focus has been on people who are working here and supporting their ideas,” he said. “I felt that was so important because I wanted them to have buy-in to the process.”
McDonald, who worked many years for a nonprofit group now called Donor Connect that promotes organ donations, had initially thought of getting involved in politics as a fundraiser. He was quickly recruited to run for office, which led to his bid for the county commission.
Bolstering the local economy is a big issue for him, and he contrasts what he sees as the needs of many with the salaries county commissioners earn, a sore point. “With the COVID going on, people are really struggling and it just seems out of whack,” he said.
The three Weber County commissioners’ compensation packages — wages plus benefits — ranged from around $168,000 to $183,000 for 2019, according to data from Transparent Utah, a state government-run website that contains information on public spending. Included in that is an auto allowance of $600 per month, or $7,200 a year, which particularly draws McDonald’s ire.
He’d seek a 25% wage cut for commissioners, McDonald said, and in the meantime, he’d donate a quarter of his pay to charity, if elected. Wages alone for the three commissioners ranged from around $120,000 to $128,000 in 2019. He’d also donate the $600 a month auto allowance to charity, less the portion that corresponds with actual mileage driven.
The auto allowance “to me seems excessive. Most people I know, that’s two car payments,” said McDonald. He favored a ballot question last year calling for a study into changing the three-commission form of government here, possibly with an eye to making the county’s elected leaders part-timers. The measure failed.
As far as fighting poverty and bolstering wages, McDonald says one of the county’s focuses should be on promoting interest in vocational training and jobs. He also thinks commissioners need to do more to foster communication among leaders around Weber County in the fight to help those in need. “Just an overall guiding hand, not that I want to control things,” McDonald said.