Utah voters appear to have given their stamp of approval Tuesday night to a slate of statewide ballot measures, from changing the way social services are funded to creating a constitutional protection to hunt and fish.
But on the local level, a number of high-profile ballot questions — including an effort to change Utah County’s form of government, a proposal to create a municipal fiber-optic network in Kaysville and a ban on new hog farms in Millard County — look to have fared less favorably.
In Utah County, voters appear to have shot down a long-standing effort to eliminate the three-member Utah County Commission and replace it with a county mayor and five council members.
About 59% of voters opposed the change, while 41% cast their ballots in favor of the measure, unofficial election results showed Wednesday morning.
The County Commission itself was split on the issue, with Commissioner Bill Lee arguing that the switch to a new form of government was unnecessary and would consolidate power in the county mayor.
Commissioners Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie, on the other hand, were strong proponents. They extolled what they saw as merits of the change, from separating executive and legislative powers and the election of council members from geographic districts instead of countywide-elected commissioners.
Ivie, who lost his reelection bid in the June Republican primary, said he thought the ballot initiative had failed because of a “false narrative” by the opposition that it would increase taxes.
“They kept claiming it would raise taxes when the truth is it was 32% cheaper than what we’re currently paying,” he said Wednesday. “It’s hard to put that on signs and it was really easy to say ‘No to 9, say no to higher taxes.’ That’s a great slogan, right? So when people don’t take time to research and look into the issues, that’s a pretty easy sell.”
Ivie has said an analysis of compensation within the form of government change showed it would cost taxpayers less than the current three-person commission.
But Lee has pointed to Salt Lake County and the “bloat” of the administration budget, where the mayor has multiple highly paid executives and each part-time council member gets a full-time, well-paid policy adviser.
“We’ve seen this work out in Salt Lake over the last 20 years — which I don’t think Utah County residents wanted to follow that same lead in any form," he said in an interview. “I think that’s the reason why you saw such an overwhelming landslide against it.”
While Ivie believes the ballot measure is dead, he said he doesn’t think the form of government issue will go away any time soon, noting that the county is growing and will need “better representation” in the future.
“What we lost in the loss of Proposition 9 was progress and better representation and a future for conservatives and the Republican Party,” he said. “Because eventually this county is going to turn into a major metropolitan area that looks like Salt Lake County and because we’re unwilling to change our form of government we’ll have three Democrats as our commissioners. And I don’t think that’s what we want.”
Lee, though, said he hopes the election results will end the conversation around the form of government at least for now.
“I would hope that when the people speak so resoundingly about this that it gives everybody a chance to just say pause, ‘let’s hold, and let’s not continue a dialogue which can be very cantankerous,’" he said. "Let’s just hold on this because the people don’t want to go that direction and that’s what they’ve said.”
Kaysville split on fiber bond
The closest of the high-profile local ballot measures asked Kaysville voters whether the municipality should take out a 30-year, $22 million bond to improve internet access in the Davis County city. As of Wednesday morning, there were just 171 more votes against the proposal than for it, with 50.6% of people in opposition.
Kaysville leaders have been studying the proposal for more than a year, but it wasn’t always a given that voters would have a chance to weigh in, since the creation of a fiber network was originally viewed as an administrative function that didn’t require resident input.
The question only came to the ballot after an almost entirely new council, comprised of people who had pledged as candidates to put the issue up for a vote, took over earlier this year and revamped the project.
Proponents of the network include city leaders and a coalition of Kaysville residents known as Citizens for Kaysville Fiber. They argue that internet access is an essential part of modern life and that the project could drive down the cost to connect by introducing more competition into the market.
The Coalition for Responsible Kaysville Fiber, a group opposed to the ballot measure, has noted on the other hand that the bond could ultimately double the city’s annual nonpower revenue and has questioned the timing of such a big financial decision when the pandemic has rocked the economy.
Jason Sanders, a member of the coalition, said Wednesday morning that the group was “pretty happy with the results” and with the City Council members for being willing to listen to their constituents.
“I think most of Kaysville is pretty fiscally conservative and they saw fiber as taking an unnecessary risk for something they can get elsewhere,” he said of the results.
Jordan Stephenson, who’s involved with the Citizens for Kaysville Fiber group, agreed that sentiment had likely been the downfall of the project if it ultimately fails.
“In Kaysville we are a very conservative city and pretty opposed to debt in general, so any time there’s a debt, you’ve got to have a really good case to justify that,” he said in an interview. “I thought we did and I think we do have a really good case to justify that, but I think there’s just a lot of conservative folks who just kind of automatically start the conversation opposed to debt.”
Stephenson said his group is hopeful the results will trend differently as more ballots are counted but acknowledged the odds are “probably in the favor of the opposition at this point.”
Davis County Clerk/Auditor Curtis Koch told The Tribune on Wednesday afternoon that there are around 31,000 outstanding ballots in the county, though it’s unclear how many of those are in Kaysville.
And while he wasn’t able to break down results by city, he did say that he expected the ballot initiative had driven high turnout in the municipality.
“The reason I say that is because I drive the backroads through Kaysville to get to my office on occasion and there are signs all over the place for and against the ballot issue,” he said. “I would expect it is an elevated turnout. And Kaysville, they always vote. They’re a very politically active community.”
New ballot results in Davis County aren’t expected to be posted for a few days, Koch said.
Millard County split on hog farm ban
Further south, in Millard County, a ballot initiative to outlaw new industrial hog farms across the county and require any effort to site one to go to the ballot for a vote also appeared to be trailing in support among voters.
As of Wednesday morning, unofficial election results showed around 52% — or 2,522 people — had voted against the measure, while 48% — or 2,292 voters — had cast their ballot in favor. That’s a 230 vote spread.
County Clerk Marki Rowley said there are as many as 1,200 ballots left to process, including a number of provisional ballots and those that were left at drop boxes yesterday. But she said she didn’t anticipate the county would post results again until Friday at the earliest.
Passage of the measure would be a win for residents in the small central Utah county who have raised concerns in recent months about the water contamination, odors and decreased property values that often accompany hog farm projects.
Local farmers and international corporations that run swine operations see Proposition 6 as an assault on private property rights, though, and have been the main opponents of the ban.
Steve Maxfield, who gathered signatures for the initiative, said he was holding out hope that outstanding ballots would shift the results in Millard County in favor of it. But he said either way, the close outcome shows the “divisive” nature of the issue in the community.
“It’s something that regardless of the outcome we’re still going to have to deal with repercussions as we move forward,” he said.
“Very clearly there are enough people concerned about [the swine farm operations] that I think referendums are not only possible but they’re also very likely” when future applications to site a hog farm come forward if the initiative fails, Maxfield added.