Commissioners Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie are showing some real political courage in Utah County.
First, they raised property taxes by a modest amount, the first time in 23 years taxes have gone up. The $19.3 million increase was needed badly to avoid deficit spending and maintain a reasonable level of services.
And then they placed a proposal on the ballot for a mayor-council form of county government -- also much needed to modernize Utah County government.
What’s going on in Utah County? Its population is growing rapidly, and it is also growing up politically.
I’m pleased to see it. I spent part of my young life in Utah County. The fields where I used to hunt pheasants and waterfowl in west Orem are now covered with subdivisions, strip malls and big box stores. Where I used to ride my bike along the relatively-quiet Geneva Road to fish in the Provo River is now a crowded thoroughfare.
Utah County’s population growth rate is twice that of Salt Lake County. Utah County has a lot of developable land and is projected to exceed Salt Lake County’s population in the next 40 years or so.
The big county needs a governance structure and tax revenue to meet the needs of a bustling metropolitan area.
As a mainstream conservative, I’m no fan of high taxes. And even with the tax increase, Utah County’s taxes remain low. But past leaders had been so miserly in producing tax revenue that the county was in danger of real damage to needed services. Even the very conservative Utah Taxpayers Association supported the modest tax increase voted in by Ainge and Ivie.
The mayor-council form of county government, if approved by voters in November, will provide a much better governance system. A large, growing, diverse county needs separation between executive and legislative functions.
The old county commission government form works well in small homogenous counties. But in a big county like Utah County, three politicians should not be both making the laws and appropriating money and then administering the laws and spending the money. There is too much potential for cronyism and corruption. A large county needs check and balances and separation of powers that a mayor-council system will provide.
What’s more, a large county needs council members to represent different geographic areas, to provide a stronger voice for constituents. Three commissioners can’t possibly represent all the interests in a growing county that is becoming more diverse.
So, good for Ainge and Ivie. They deserve praise. They’re taking important steps that will serve Utah County for many years into the future.