It may come down to property taxes.
Whether a contingent probing the notion of turning unincorporated western Weber County into a new city keeps up the effort may turn on the expected impact to property taxes.
The Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office is seeking a consultant to study the feasibility of incorporating, per a petition put forward by residents and property owners from the area. If the study shows that becoming a city will likely have no change in taxes for those who own property in the area, some may give the notion extra attention.
"I think that would be eye-opening to a lot of people," said Greg Bell, a resident of the area who's helping lead the effort. Many in the area, he said, seem to think — rightly or wrongly — that property taxes would go up if the area were converted into a city.
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On the other hand, if the study, expected to take around three months, indicates a big jump in the tax rate will be needed to generate the funds required to operate as a city, things could fizzle. "Then maybe that's where it dies," Bell said.
Bell and others from the unincorporated area west of Farr West, Plain City, Marriott-Slaterville and West Haven submitted petitions with the state last February, seeking a study into the idea of incorporating. It's the first step in the process of becoming a city in Utah, per state law, and petitioners have been driven, in part, by a desire for more local control and better representation. As is, the three-member Weber County Commission governs the area.
State officials initially said in March that the petitioners didn't have the required number of signatures on the petitions. But another review determined they did meet state guidelines and the initiative is edging ahead, according to Justin Lee, director of elections in the lieutenant governor's office.
As part of the study, the consultant will figure how much property tax revenue is currently generated by property owners in the broad area that's the focus of possible incorporation. The zone west of the cluster of cities along Interstate 15 is a mix of agricultural land, dairy farms, undeveloped fields and, more and more, housing subdivisions.
The experts will also try to calculate the likely costs associated with being a city and the change, if any, required in the property tax rate to cover the expenses.
Bell, for his part, doesn't have a clear inkling of what the study may find. As is, county residents currently pay a county property tax meant to cover the cost of services particular to where they live, similar to the municipal property taxes residents pay in most Weber County cities. Such services include planning and zoning, road upkeep and protection by the Weber County Sheriff's Office, among others.
Weber County Clerk-Auditor Ricky Hatch, though, thinks the tax rate would face upward pressure if the area incorporated. The 2018 property tax rate for county services specific to unincorporated areas totaled 0.000135, which, applied to an average-valued home in unincorporated Weber County, $377,368, resulted in a property tax charge of $28.02.
"It's a lean machine right now," Hatch said.
Outside West Haven and Marriott-Slaterville, which don't have city property taxes, the lowest municipal property tax load in Weber County was in Plain City. Plain City's tax rate last year totaled 0.000387, amounting to a charge of $66.19 on an average-valued home, $310,982. The biggest municipal charge was in South Ogden, $381.79 on a $239,369 home, the average there.
Even if western Weber County incorporates, it wouldn't necessarily have to start providing all the traditional services that cities offer, like police and fire protection and road repair. The area is already served by an independent water district, for instance, while the Weber County Sheriff's Office and Weber Fire District could continue serving the new city. Bell said the new city, if formed, could contract with Weber County for road upkeep.
Notably, Bell said, the city could assume planning and zoning responsibilities, creating more local control over future growth and development. Rapid housing development in western Weber County, governed by the county's planning and zoning regulations, has been a hot point of contention.
Weber County Commissioner Scott Jenkins said county leaders take no offense at the local probe into incorporating, even if it means wresting governance from commissioners. "We think it's appropriate they're doing what they're doing. There's nothing wrong with those folks wanting to make their own city," he said.
However, county moves to update the Western Weber General Plan, the county document guiding development in unincorporated western Weber County, have been put on hold pending the incorporation effort.