Breaking: The Plot to Kill Townships

I've been attending meetings of the White City Community Council for the last several months in hopes of getting them pumped up enough about UTOPIA to find a way to join. I'd been making some good progress in selling them on the project, but the last meeting revealed something that far dwarfs it in comparison. What was discussed is a plot so deep, so devious and so critically important to the future of the township that you almost don't believe it when you hear it. Suffice to say that Holladay, South Salt Lake, Cottonwood Heights and Sandy are co-conspirators in an effort to kill the township designation granted by HB40 and Millcreek Township has gotten in on the skulduggery to try and save its own hide. I know, these are some very serious accusations to be leveling at these five entities. This is based on reports from members of the White City Community Council, some representatives from Salt Lake County and a newspaper reporter for the Valley Journals, so I think there's enough people reporting the same data that there's truth to be had here.

Whenever discussing any plot or conspiracy, you must always first establish motive, something that all parties involved have in spades. Sandy's game is simple: they want to be a city by the 2010 census. With their current population of around 90,000, annexing White City Township and Granite Township would give them about another 9,000 people, putting them very close to fulfilling this goal. Swallowing up some of the islands between Sandy and Cottonwood Heights would just send them over the threshold needed. Being a city means they'll qualify for a bunch of federal money for things like policing and street improvements.

Cost is the motivating factor behind Holladay and Cottonwood Heights. Both cities are very recent incorporations, Holladay having incorporated in 1999 and Cottonwood Heights in 2006. Neither city had the proper resources to incorporate, however. They still contract for police services from the county and Cottonwood Heights has had trouble paying its policing bills lately, causing a significant drop-off in the quality of service in townships and county islands. Cottonwood Heights wants to jockey with Sandy for parts of Granite to try and increase the tax base and it wouldn't mind White City being swallowed up so that they didn't have to share policing services with them. Holladay wants to start annexing parts of Millcreek so that it can try and grow itself out of its financial problems, though there isn't enough population in the entire township to bump it up to a city.

So where does South Salt Lake fit in? They're boxed in on every side and wouldn't mind snapping up a chunk of Millcreek to expand their borders. Salt Lake City is to the north, West Valley City to the west and Murray to the south leaving no other options for expansion. Millcreek isn't too hot on the idea of being annexed piece by piece by South Salt Lake and Holladay, so it's trying to protect its own borders by considering incorporation as a separate city.

So here we have the motives: Sandy wants to be a city, Holladay and Cottonwood Heights want to plug holes in the budget and South Salt Lake wants to grow beyond its borders. Millcreek, being caught in the middle, wants to try and save itself from being divided up like a Thanksgiving turkey. The means by which these players are hoping to achieve their goals are devious and unscrupulous.

The Association of Community Councils Together (ACCT) is an organization of townships, unincorporated areas and interested cities that exists to study the ups and downs of the township designation under HB40. They're also charged with undertaking a survey next year to see if residents in townships want to maintain their current status, incorporate as a new city, be annexed by an existing city or disband altogether. As part of this mission, they're given a sizable chunk of money by the county to be used in this process. A lot of this money has been spent on a study to determine the costs of each of these courses of action. Here's where the suspicious behavior pops up.

In theory, these studies and reports are supposed to be public data used to help residents determine how they want to respond on the surveys. In practice, however, there's been a shroud of secrecy in the whole process with the company commissioned to do the study actively refusing to disclose the results while cities cherry-pick the data to cover up the true costs of annexation.

As part of being annexed, all annexed areas have to have flood control and roads upgraded to meet federal standards, something that unincorporated county land does not have to do. The cities are reporting that the cost of doing this is about $300-400 per year, about a 25-40% increase in taxation. That alone should be enough to take your breath away, but this cost is ONLY the direct property taxes for getting city services, not doing the upgrades. When the upgrades are figured in, the costs at least double. In the case of Magna, it's estimated that property taxes would have to increase $1400 per household, an over 100% increase in taxation. These hidden costs are why cities incorporated within the last 10-15 years are in serious financial trouble. Cottonwood Heights can't pay its bill for policing. Holladay can't buy a streetsweeper. Eagle Mountain can't afford a necessary sewage treatment plant. The question is why we would want some of these yahoos to be in charge of mismanaging anything more than they already are.

That's why the township designation is so important. By being a township, it's an "all or nothing" annexation. Sandy can't grab White City unless all of the residents approve. Holladay would have to annex Millcreek, an area with almost four times its population, in one chunk. It's a major impediment to the cities doing what it is they want, so they've every motivation to try and kill it. By causing plenty of trouble with ACCT, they're doing just that. Their hope is to derail the entire township process so that come 2010, the designation will expire and the annexation can begin.

Millcreek can read the writing on the wall and they're looking to save themselves. The cost of incorporating is roughly about the same as the cost of being annexed, making incorporation seem like an eventuality. Since they know what their outcome is, they've been steering ACCT money into covering some of their costs of incorporation instead of doing the study as directed by HB40, squandering money from all of the townships in the process. To cover their own rears, members of the township have aided the cities in refusing to give out study data to those asking for it, trying to stall until HB40 expires and they can take their plan of action.

The entire thing is outrageous and unbecoming behavior from elected and appointed officials, but most major media isn't quite picking up on it just yet. If you're as incensed as I am, make sure your legislators, county council members and township representatives know how upset you are so we can stop this treachery before it goes too far.

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3 Responses

  1. Very interesting column. I wouldn’t have understood the implications even if I had read it in the major media, so I’m glad to have an explanation that I can follow.

  2. Jason says:

    Umm… why aren’t you sending these to SL Weekly for “letters to the editor?”

  3. Jesse says:

    Well, this one lacks some journalistic polish that would be required for publication. It’s also too long for a short submission and too short for a feature article. Once I have more to flesh it out with, I could probably submit it for publication.

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