Some residents in Millcreek township say they lack a voice in many policy decisions and pay Salt Lake County too much for police and fire services. But others say the county is doing a good job of keeping taxes low and providing adequate representation. In the last two decades residents of Cottonwood Heights and Holladay decided to incororate. Now voters in Millcreek will decide if their community should do the same.
During an election season it’s not unusual to see neighborhood lawns teeming with campaign signs. But from the sight of lawns in Millcreek, races for president and state-wide office are taking a back seat to a battle over incorporation.
When voters go to the polls November 6 they’ll be asked whether or not Millcreek should incorporate. They’ll also be asked to choose the form of government they’d like to have. That includes the number of members on the council and whether or not members are elected by district.
Millcreek residents Earl and Anna Clare Shepherd actively support incorporation.
The Shepherds have lived in Millcreek for more than 34 years. Anna Clare says in that time she’s watched the community grow and evolve.
"We have almost 64,000 people who live here," she says. "We would be the fifth largest city in the county, the tenth largest in the state. Could you imagine? It's taken us all these years to consider becoming a city when we have that kind of strength.”
The Shepherds say actual tax revenues in Millcreek are higher than what Salt Lake County initially estimated in a 2011 feasibility study. The study projected a 1 percent increase in sales tax revenues in 2011 through 2016. County officials say if that number rings true, the city of Millcreek would need to raise taxes or reduce services after a couple of years to keep up with inflation.
But in 2012, residents in favor of incorporation paid the same consulting firm who did the first study: Lewis, Young, Robertson and Burningham inc. to look at the actual revenues for 2011 and first half of 2012, which showed about a 5 and a half percent increase in sales tax revenue for 2011 and an even bigger jump in 2012.
Anna Clare says Salt Lake County isn’t always accountable to Millcreek residents. She and her husband point to the controversial police fee imposed on the unincorporated county in 2010 as an example.
“They didn’t ask us to vote on it," Earl says. "They just made us pay it."
"And it was because they needed the money," his wife says.
A law passed in the 2011 legislative session has since banned such fees.
The Shepherds argue unincorporated areas pay more for public safety than surrounding cities do because they currently subsidize those services in other areas of the county. They say if Millcreek were to incorporate, it could either stay with the Unified Police Department and Unified Fire Authority or contract with them for some services.
“And what does contracting mean? Well for example, Okay police department, we want you to patrol twice up and down this road per day instead of just once. This sort of thing," Earl says.
"You can negotiate for a price," Anna Clare says. "As it is now there is no negotiation. There is no choice.”
But if Millcreek were to contract with the UPD for services, the only opportunity they have to negotiate a better price is to cut scale back on patrols.
They could also contact with a nearby city for public safety, or create their fire and police departments.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder is part of the UPD command.He said during a public meeting in Millcreek last week, he is neutral on the debate, but thinks there should be no change in the current arrangement between UPD and Millcreek.
“We have seen it in West Valley, Draper, Cottonwood Heights, many cities that have gone to that self-provide model and there has been no analysis of whether that's the appropriate or better service or not," he said.
Winder said Cottonwood Heights is now paying about a million dollars more for police services than it would be paying had it remained in the district.
Roger Dudley has lived in Millcreek for close to 38 years. He says it’s an enormous concern that Millcreek could leave the UPD and UFA.
By ending the current agreement, Millcreek would forego about $1.5 million in revenue from Kennecott Utah Copper, which is the single largest contributor of tax revenues for the area.
“If there is one financial transaction that we can really zero in on, it is that," Dudley says.
He says it just doesn't make sense to become a city.
“I felt like this was a duplication of government and it would add expense, a tremendous amount of expense," Dudley says.
Another expense Dudley fears if Millcreek incorporates is a franchise tax. A city has the exclusive right to levy up to 6% of a resident’s utility bill or 3.5% of a resident’s telephone bill.
“It’s clearly a mechanism for a municipal city government to raise revenue but it’s a tax to the residents," Dudley says.
Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Bradley says because Home Depot and Wal-Mart are the only major businesses in the area he would be fairly nervous about building a city on such a small sales tax base.
“Given the fact that you’re tax base is fairly stable and there is not a lot of growth there because there is not a lot of businesses going into the Millcreek area just because there is no place to put them, you have to say this is about what our sales tax is going to be," Bradley says.
He says that will become an issue as expenses will continue to rise.
But those in favor of incorporation say there is potential for growth: along 33rd and 39th south, and an area near State Street, just north of 45th south that’s been approved for transit-oriented development.
And although start up costs for incorporation are still unclear, they say projected revenue surpluses will cover the expense. In addition, Salt Lake County has stepped up in the past to provide that funding for new cities. But that decision would lie in the hands of the county council.
At this point, the community is undoubtedly divided on the issue. Although no recent polls have been conducted to suggest the outcome, both sides will be canvassing the neighborhood, knocking on doors and trying to win undecided voters in this township over to their side
Salt Lake County website about Millcreek Incorporation