SALT LAKE CITY — The ballot question on creating a new city in western Weber County may go forward as planned, even though its precise boundaries remain tenuous due to proposed annexations that could cut into part of the new locale.
Citing legislation approved last June, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that Utah elections officials have authority to include a disclaimer with the ballot question indicating that the borders of the city could change in the run-up to Nov. 3, Election Day. Wednesday’s decision means that the proposed annexation of a portion of the proposed new city by Plain City may move forward even as Election Day nears, potentially removing a chunk of the new locale.
The incorporation question, Proposition 18, is a hot topic that’s generated strong sentiments, both for and against. Accordingly, the ruling didn’t sit well with Valerie Hansen, a proponent of incorporation and one of the west Weber County residents who filed the Supreme Court suit last month to get clarity on the matter. The provisional name of the proposed city, which would be Weber County’s sixteenth, is West Weber Community and, per the original plans, it covers around 57 square miles and is home to 4,700.
“Constitutionally, that shouldn’t happen,” Hansen said Thursday, alluding to the specter of a voter losing their right to sound off via the ballot question if they live in the Plain City annexation area and the annexation is ultimately successful. “That’s what it really comes down to, a person’s right to vote.”
In the decision on Wednesday, though, the Supreme Court cited change approved just last June during a special legislative session in saying the process may unfold as proposed by the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, which oversees elections. State elections officials, the target of the Supreme Court lawsuit, interpret the legislative changes “to apply to any petition for incorporation preceding a vote on incorporation. We agree,” the decision reads, in part.
A map is to accompany mail-in ballots with the incorporation question that will be sent to voters in the impacted zone. It’s to state that the precise borders of the proposed city remain in flux. It shows the original city boundaries as proposed by incorporation proponents and the portion that would go to Plain City instead if its annexation efforts succeed. West Haven proposes annexing a much smaller portion of the proposed new city as well.
“This map is accurate as of the time of printing. The areas indicated as ‘Pending Annexations’ on the map could be annexed into neighboring cities prior to Election Day,” reads the disclaimer on the map, posted online.
Plain City Mayor Jon Beesley lauded the Supreme Court action. “I think it’s the right decision. I think it gives the landowners the choice,” he said.
The annexation process in his city won’t finish before Nov. 3, Beesley said. But even if the incorporation vote is successful, he maintains that Senate Bill 5004, the measure creating the wiggle room allowing annexation to move forward, will let the process advance unimpeded after Election Day.
Beesley said that as talk of incorporation gained steam, some in the area abutting Plain City approached officials from the city, expressing interest in being annexed into the existing locale instead. That prompted petitioning by many. “We’re dealing with a lot of signatures, a lot of land,” Beesley said.
Some of those wanting to be part of Plain City worry about the taxes they’d have to pay if they were folded into a new city. Others prefer to be with an established city, Plain City, according to Beesley.
Lawmakers took up S.B. 5004 in response to the clamoring for and against incorporation, aiming to create compromise legislative amenable to both sides.
Proposition 18 actually contains three parts. The ballot question asks whether the new city should be formed, what sort of government the city should have if the proposal gets majority support and whether city council members should be elected by district.