Primary showdown for S.L. County Council highlights key question: What is — and isn’t — the county’s business?

Incumbent Steve DeBry points to a list of accomplishments; challenger Sheldon Stewart wants county out of land use affairs.

Salt Lake County Council member Steve DeBry, left, and Riverton City Council member Sheldon Stewart, Republican primary candidates for District 5 on the Salt Lake County Council.

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A longtime Salt Lake County Council member is asking Republican voters to hire him to a fourth term this month in what will be the only council race likely decided by primary ballots.

District 5 council member Steve DeBry, who represents the southwest segment of the county, said he’s delivered for his constituents in his three terms and has more work to do.

“I enjoy serving,” he said. “It’s an honor to serve. It’s a privilege to serve. I think I’ve accomplished a whole lot, and I just want to accomplish more.”

The primary will be held June 28, but Republican voters will get to cast ballots in advance. The county clerk will begin mailing ballots this week. No Democrat or third-party candidate has filed to run for the seat in the fall, though a write-in hopeful could emerge.

DeBry, who oversees the Unified Police Department’s Millcreek Precinct, is trying to fend off Riverton City Council member Sheldon Stewart, who won the delegate vote on April 9 at the Salt Lake County GOP convention. DeBry qualified for the primary through the signature-gathering process.

The District 5 incumbent rattled off a tally of accomplishments, including scheduling a vote to overturn the first countywide mask mandate, passing a budget last year as council chair that included no tax increases, and partnering with communities in his district to pay for a study that addresses land use, economic development, transportation and infrastructure in the southwest part of the county.

If reelected, DeBry has litany of things he’d like to do, such as acquiring land for a new recreation center in Bluffdale or south Riverton, improving access to open space in Butterfield Canyon, working to get cities the transportation funding they need, and allocating money from the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal pandemic relief package passed by Congress last year.

Stewart, who works as a bank executive in South Jordan, said the southwest portion of the county has not been represented well, and in his role as a Riverton City Council member, he has improved communication and brought more attention to the area he represents.

If elected to the County Council, he said he wants the county to get out of the land use business.

“The county right now gets themselves involved in land use,” he said, “and they don’t have a mechanism, especially with residential development, to leverage impact fees.”

Stewart also wants to create more transparency with the county budget and said his strong financial background will help him reduce spending. He said he believes the government should get smaller, not larger.

“Government should find ways to get out of our lives,” he said, “instead of getting into our lives.”

Stewart advocates shifting control to the local level and maintains that, in his experience, working through the county to receive money is inefficient and needs to change. To facilitate more dialogue and cooperation, he said, he wants to align the council under strategic priorities.

Not being a full-time government employee, he said, is what sets him apart from DeBry.

He criticized DeBry’s service on the council while also working for a department that receives funding from the county. There’s a conflict of interest, he said, when a county funds an organization that employs one of its elected officials.

“I don’t think a person should be in that type of position,” Stewart said, “where they can do that.”

All misinformation, DeBry countered.

“My position and the people I’m over in Millcreek city comes strictly from Millcreek city public coffers,” DeBry said. “Has nothing to do with county general fund money at all. Zero.”

But if there ever is a conflict during a decision, he said, council members recuse themselves from discussion and abstain from voting. He said he has never participated in a vote to add money to the countywide-funded portion of the Unified Police Department’s budget.

DeBry plans to retire from his four-decade law enforcement career at year’s end, a decision he said was made years ago.