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A field in western Weber County, photographed Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Residents are divided over a ballot question, Proposition 18, calling for the unincorporated area to be converted into a new city.

The temperature is rising in western Weber County.

The ballot question calling for incorporation of a broad swath of land west of Plain City, Marriott-Slaterville and West Haven is generating intense debate in social media channels. Political signage has popped up both for and against the measure, Proposition 18. And it’s spurred opposition from both the Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors, worried creation of the city would stifle growth, and the Utah Taxpayers Association, worried a new city would mean new taxes.

Principals in the push for and against the measure didn’t immediately respond to queries from the Standard-Examiner seeking comment.

But a recent post on the Facebook page of West Weber Community, Inc., which favors Proposition 18, alludes to the intensity of the discourse. “May god bless you all through this difficult and often heated debate. Regardless of the outcome, we all will still be neighbors and though we may sometimes disagree, let’s not be disagreeable,” it reads.

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A sign in support of Proposition 18, the controversial ballot question calling for the unincorporated area of western Weber County to be turned into a city. The photo was taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.

Proposition 18 asks if a 57-square-mile unincorporated swath of western Weber County — the bulk of the land in the area still not part of any city — should become the county’s 16th locale, preliminarily called West Weber Community. It also asks what form of city government should be implemented if the area is to become a city.

For proponents, it’s all about assuring local determination in the area, a mix of wide open farmland and increasing numbers of residential subdivisions. Weber County commissioners now govern the area, but a locally elected mayor and city council would take over leadership duties if incorporation moves forward.

“What is our motivation? To grow our communities by coming together to govern ourselves. That is it. We want to govern ourselves and be the masters of our own destiny,” Greg Bell, who’s spearheaded the incorporation push, said in a public Facebook post.

But not everyone’s convinced, and it’s spurred questions and opposition on a number of fronts.

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A sign in opposition to Proposition 18, the controversial ballot question calling for the unincorporated area of western Weber County to be turned into a city. The photo was taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.

Some who live and/or own land in the area have petitioned to be annexed into nearby Plain City instead, in part because they’re more comfortable becoming part of an established locale. If that process moves forward — Mayor Jon Beesley has said it’s got the blessing of the Plain City City Council, which has final say — a big chunk of land would be lopped from the proposed new city, becoming part of Plain City instead. Around 360 properties sit in the area that would be annexed into Plain City, according to city reps.

The Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors donated $5,000 late last month to Keep Weber Western, which formed last June in opposition to Proposition 18. Mike Ostermiller, chief executive officer of the Realtors group, said the organization’s involvement stems from worries about what might happen if the new city is formed. The underlying goal of the group seeking incorporation, Ostermiller charges, is “to stop and stall growth in the area.”

He’s not for unfettered, runaway growth, Ostermiller said. But given the lack of affordable housing up and down the Wasatch Front, he worries the new city, if formed, would be an obstacle to its development. Ostermiller also expressed faith in the leadership of the county government apparatus that now governs the area.

“We have a lot of confidence in Weber County,” he said.

Reps from Keep Weber Western didn’t immediately respond to a query from the Standard-Examiner seeking comment. But among its leaders, according to paperwork filed with the state of Utah, are Andrew Favero and Wayne Andreotti, members of the Western Weber Planning Commission, the advisory body on planning matters to county commissioners. Bell, a leader in West Weber Community, Inc., the group pushing for incorporation, also belongs to the planning commission.

Rusty Cannon, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said the group sent a letter voicing opposition to Proposition 18 to residents of the area owing to concerns about the possible impact on taxes. The association advocates for “fair and equitable” taxation.

“Typically, incorporation leads to higher taxes as the new city government needs to be funded for staffing, buildings, facilities, etc.,” he said in an email. “All of that new government structure comes with a cost and it is paid for by city taxpayers. While we would salute efforts to make any tax increases small, history has shown that government can and often does expand at a rapid pace and run over budget.”

Furthermore, Cannon warns leaders of the new city, if formed, could implement a 6% municipal energy tax on electricity bills. “Virtually every city government that has the ‘option’ to implement that tax takes it. We think the city would definitely implement the tax,” Cannon said.

Though incorporation proponents didn’t immediately respond to Standard-Examiner queries seeking comment, they’ve said they’re not at all averse to development. They just think locally elected leaders should be the ones to oversee it.

On the tax question, a study last year into the matter found that incorporating the 57-square-mile area would cost the average homeowner an extra $50 or so per year in property taxes. The city could expect some $1.5 million per year in tax funding from existing revenue streams for starters, with expenses of around $1.7 million-$1.8 million per year. The $50 or so hike would cover the $200,000-$300,000 deficit. The study doesn’t address what would happen if the proposed Plain City annexation proceeds, reducing the landmass of the proposed new city.

Mail-in balloting is underway and culminates on Nov. 3.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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