In neighborhoods across Millcreek Township, it’s not uncommon to see pro- and anti-incorporation signs on the same streets, sometimes next door to one another.
That’s indicative of the divisive nature of this issue, which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot for residents of the eastcentral Salt Lake Valley community of 63,500 people. It’s left people like Raimund Goeckeritz, a retired car mechanic who lives at about 4200 S. 900 East, saying things like, “I want to be for it but I don’t.”
Perhaps that is because many pertinent factors in the Millcreek incorporation proposal are so middle of the road, much like the community itself, that it is not clear that becoming a city would be good or that maintaining the status quo would be better.
Millcreek is close to the center of the valley on its east side. Pretty much built out, its average annual population growth rate of 1.4 percent is middle-of-the-pack among neighboring cities.
It’s the same with figures for residents’ average annual income and average taxable value per capita. While Millcreek has more businesses than any of its surrounding cities except Salt Lake City, most are small and pay employees a little less than the county average.
So it’s not surprising that a 2011 incorporation feasibility study underwritten by Salt Lake County concluded Millcreek city was doable, with a budget that delivers a comparable level of municipal services for the same amount of money, although expenses are likely to increase slightly faster than revenues over time.
But because the figures are so close, both sides believe a closer scrutiny of the numbers validates their positions on incorporation.
City advocates such as Jeff Silvestrini, a Salt Lake City attorney active in the Mount Olympus Community Council on the proposed city’s far east side, point to the study’s estimate that sales tax revenues will grow 1 percent annually.
That’s too low, he said, noting county sales tax collections have grown 5.7 percent and 7.6 percent over the past two years after the abysmal recession years when the feasibility study was conducted.
“If anyone had questions about Millcreek being feasible, we will be feasible. We won’t have to raise taxes,” he argued at a community meeting Oct. 11 at Skyline High School.
But to incorporation opponent Roger Dudley, an East Millcreek resident for 25 years, a more relevant number in the study is the projection that city revenues would increase 1.8 percent annually while expenses go up 2.2 percent.
Even if Millcreek city would break even in its first year, he said, its annual operating deficit would grow quickly to anywhere from $2 million to $12 million.
The low end of that range would occur if the new city chooses to contract for public works from Salt Lake County, fire coverage from the Unified Fire Authority (UFA) and police protection from the Unified Police District (UPD).
The high end would result from the city providing its own services. Dudley predicted that course of action would require imposition of a utility franchise tax of up to 6 percent. In Salt Lake County, only Cottonwood Heights does not levy that tax, he added, predicting Millcreek would do so too.
Silvestrini maintained there will be no need for the utility tax because sales taxes will come in better than predicted. He also felt those additional sales tax revenues will cover start-up costs projected at $490,000.
Dudley, conversely, said it’s a mistake when “day one, we start in the hole,” saying there is no guarantee Salt Lake County would help a new city by giving it its share of tax contributions to the municipal services fund. “Prudence is what is so important in today’s economic climate.”
Next to the pocketbook issue of increased taxes, the greatest concern about incorporation involves the question: “Who will provide police protection in the new city?”
Dudley and other foes fear Millcreek city officials might terminate a contract with the UPD, then form their own police department or hook up with Cottonwood Heights, whose mayor, Kelvyn Cullimore, has participated frequently in pro-city meetings.
Going that route would cost Millcreek access to the tax monies paid into the UPD by Rio Tinto, whose Kennecott holdings on the valley’s west side account for 18 percent of the county’s taxable value.
Silvestrini countered that there are no current plans to leave the UPD or the UFA, but that one of the beauties of being a city is that it would give residents more choice in deciding who provides services.
“Voters will elect representatives who don’t do crazy or stupid things,” he said. “Local control can be a great thing. … Our residents love the UPD and UFA. It would be a huge thing for anyone to want to change that, but if a better option came along, we’d be a fool not to follow that.”
Another key issue for city backers is what happens to Millcreek Township if incorporation is defeated.
“We know that if this fails, cities will say it’s fair game to annex Millcreek,” Silvestrini claimed, contending the township’s four community councils have worked hard for a decade to develop a sense of community that would be torn apart by annexation.
“Annexation is a real concern,” he added. “The main reason we should incorporate is to keep our Millcreek community together.”
Dudley dismissed the severity of that threat, saying existing laws adequately protect unincorporated areas from unwanted annexations, and that the bottom line comes down to “the city is totally unnecessary.
“What’s at stake here is risks and inexperience versus mature, capable government that’s proven,” he contended. “We don’t want any more government. We don’t want any less.”
The four community councils within Millcreek have remained neutral on incorporation, and true to form in this election, some of their leaders have divergent views.
Mount Olympus’ Silvestrini is for it, obviously. Diane Angus of the Millcreek Community Council knows people on both sides but feels personally that “I can’t see the benefit.” Nancy Carlson-Gotts of East Millcreek Community Council also is inclined to vote no, noting “I’m happy with the services I get from the county. What’s that old saying, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ ”
Canyon Rim Community Council member Brian Howick thinks both sides have put out misleading information and tried to build support through fear tactics, to the detriment of residents.
“The thing that hurts me the most is, in such a nice friendly area, why is incorporation terminating friendships that have lasted decades. It makes me ill,” Howick said, predicting that whatever the outcome, “I don’t know if most citizens would notice much of a change.”
Utah has 243 cities and towns.
83 percent of Utahns live in a city or town.
Three cities have incorporated since 1996.
Source: Utah League of Cities and Towns
Millcreek ballot issue
To access a county website meant to be informative and neutral on the proposal to incorporate Millcreek, go to http://www.millcreekballot.com/.