OGDEN — Expect a continued focus on formalizing an economic development initiative with neighboring Davis County when Weber County commissioners reboot for 2019.
Much in that regard has yet to be done, “but the future is good,” said Gage Froerer, who won election to one of the three commission posts in November and takes office on Jan. 7, replacing James Ebert. “We’re looking at a regional plan instead of a city or county plan.”
Moreover, Weber County‘s general plan may get another look in light of continuing pressure to develop in the unincorporated western sections of the county, an increasing point of controversy.
“It’s been a lot of years since it’s been done,” said Commissioner Scott Jenkins, a former Utah state senator from Plain City. He’s been serving out the final months of the term of Kerry Gibson, who stepped down from the commission in June, and will be sworn-in to his first full term on Jan. 7 after winning election to the seat in the midterm election.
Notably, Jim Harvey, the third commissioner, an incumbent who didn’t face re-election, expects a spirit of cooperation.
“While we may have differences of opinion,” he said, alluding to contrasting views with Jenkins on certain issues during Jenkins’ short tenure on the commission, “I see us getting along and progressing as a team together.”
Echoing that, Jenkins said he gets comments “all the time” from constituents tired of the seeming disharmony that marked the relationship among the prior slate of commissioners, Harvey, Ebert and Gibson, all Republicans. He, too, foresees a changed attitude on the body, expressing hope that “those hard feelings that’ve been there in the past will go away.”
Harvey, Jenkins and Froerer, also an all-GOP lineup, formally meet for the first time as commissioners at the body’s regular meeting on Jan. 8, a day after all the county officials elected to office last November are sworn in to office. Though some issues will be carried over from 2018 and before, it’ll mark the start of a new commission with new personalities and, perhaps, a different dynamic.
The prior commission was marked, notably, by differences among the officials on the use of private contractors to handle certain county functions, promoted in some instances by Ebert but viewed with skepticism at times by Gibson. Redevelopment of 12th Street in western Weber County — tentatively on track to be completed in 2019 — was another point of contention, with Ebert advocating a more tempered approach and Gibson eager to move forward quickly.
Gibson, in his second term on the commission, stepped down from the body to take a deputy director’s post in the Utah Department of Natural Resources, precipitating local GOPers’ selection of Jenkins to fill his term. Ebert lost in his bid for a second term on the commission to Froerer in an intense Republican primary battle last June. In running for county commission, Froerer, who’s from Huntsville, decided to forego re-election to the Utah House, where he had served for six terms.
LURING BUSINESS, REZONES, GARBAGE
Creation of a joint economic development body with Davis County was a big focus for the prior slate of commissioners and it has the backing of the new slate. Likewise, Harvey said the new slate of Davis County commissioners, which will also include two newcomers in 2019, also backs the continued efforts. Officials from the two counties approved letters of intent in early December to move forward with creation of an economic development body serving the two-county zone, aiming to coordinate efforts to lure business to northern Utah. Harvey expects the effort to yield results within the first quarter of 2019.
The efforts aren’t new, dating to 2017, Harvey noted. “This is a pretty thorough, thought-out thing,” he said.
Scott, citing the regular rezoning requests by western Weber County landowners to allow development projects, said the county general plan could get an overhaul. The planning document spells out the sort of development that may occur in different parts of unincorporated Weber County and is used to chart future growth.
“It’s been a lot of years since it’s been done,” Scott said. Many come to planning officials seeking to build new subdivisions, sometimes higher-density developments than would otherwise be allowed, he continued, “so it’s time to do it.”
Scott also touts getting rid of county-owned land if there’s no clear-cut plan to use it in some way and says the issue could gain ground in 2019. “We’re taking an inventory now of all the excess land ... that we can do away with. There’s no sense just sitting on land,” he said.
The county may also look into contracting with a private hauler to provide trash-collection services in unincorporated Weber County, as is done in some cities, like Ogden, Scott said. That, he said, could reduce the cost for trash customers, who now have to individually make arrangements with haulers for garbage pickup.
Froerer, who took part in county budget talks last fall as an observer in preparation for taking the commission seat, broached the notion of finding a different landfill to handle Weber County garbage. He pointed to the proposed Promontory Point landfill as a possibility, but said other alternatives to Weber County’s transfer station, at least, deserve investigation.
Froerer also pointed to equalization of sales taxes across the state as a point of concern, notably the higher sales tax on auto sales in Weber County, an ongoing point of local discussion. That would require working with state leaders.
Harvey pointed to efforts to get the word out to the public about what Weber County government is doing, via social media, online streaming of commission meetings and more. In his 20-plus years working for Weber County, he said, “this is far and away the most transparent commission that’s been.”