Ongoing Legislative Push in Utah to Allow Counties to Split

First published on ksl.com

To fully understand how and why this is relevant, consider our previous story about San Juan County.

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, isn’t giving up on legislation that would give communities an option to split and form their own county — legislation that was born from frustrations of some elected officials on Salt Lake County’s west side.

Coleman on Wednesday made her case to the Political Subdivisions Interim Committee to bring back a new version of HB93, a bill that would allow communities to break off and form their own county with a petition and vote of residents without requiring a majority vote from the county they’d leave behind.

“There has been some pretty strong will on part of the county that I live in to consider a formation of a new county,” Coleman told the committee.

But that aside, Coleman said her main priority is to address what she viewed as a hole in state code that leaves counties out of a clear process for communities to choose their own destinies related to county government.

“It’s really antithetical to a core belief we have to self-direct our community governments,” Coleman said.

Her legislation would “mirror” the same process cities use to incorporate and require feasibility studies for both the new county and the county left behind.

After Coleman’s bill surfaced during this year’s session, some leaders in San Juan County began eying the bill after last year’s election gave the San Jan County Commission its first Native American elected officials, even though Navajos slightly outnumber white populations in the county. A judge realigned the commission’s district lines after finding gerrymandering favored white residents.

The bill faced backlash, including from Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, who called any Salt Lake County split an “unrealistic and fiscally irresponsible proposal” that she expected to fail.

The bill failed on a 29-40 vote in the House.

Coleman told lawmakers on Wednesday the issue is worthy of interim study to fill a gap in Utah code.

“Whether or not you are influenced by individual circumstances, if it’s in Salt Lake County or San Jan County, our current code is insufficient of a process,” Coleman said. “It really should be updated.”

Ultimately, the Political Subdivisions Interim Committee adopted its list of interim study items — and included Coleman’s bill on the list, so the legislation will likely surface again in next year’s legislative session.