It’s been a long time since the last county was created (1917 – Daggett). Someone, somewhere comes up with the idea and convinces a state legislator(s) who will sponsor a bill has to be run in the Utah State Legislature. The details of it would likely be discussed in a number of different legislative committees, could include some public hearings and other meetings designed to ensure everyone understood all the details involved (ie funding, boundaries, organizing a governing body). At some point a vote would come up in both the House of Representatives and Senate and if approved by both would go to the Governor for signature (his approval) and a new county would be born.
Why do we even need counties – isn’t it enough to just have cities?
City boundaries only go so far, leaving vast miles and miles of land that are under no other government jurisdiction – commonly referred to as “unincorporated areas.” Services are needed in those places because citizens live there, businesses are located there, and often times they are places that are on the way to other places. So counties were created to provide some measure governmental service in those places between towns and cities.
Why don’t they get divided equally and have the same population?
Populations shift and change over time due to a wide variety of circumstances (economy, availability or scarcity of resources, to name just a couple) and so if they were divided equally at one point it wouldn’t stay that way – there would always be some imbalance in population. The county map would look much different as you would have to divide present day Salt Lake County into about 15 counties to help create a balance in population.
Also, the purpose of counties to is help provide government services to unincorporated areas (places without a city). There are people who live in those areas and lots of services and needs that have to be decided on in them. For example roads. If roads ended at the city line we would probably be able to manage travel in the urban areas okay, but there would be no way to transport goods in areas where there are no cities or towns – it would basically isolate us and shut everything down. Roads is just one example, there are also considerations for water, emergency services (including search and rescue), and even cell phone towers and TV transmitters (nearly all of which fall outside the bounties of cities and towns).
How often are county officials elected? What is their term limit?
Basically county elections take place every two years for roughly half the officials – the other half are on the next two years. They are elected for four-year terms, but there are no term limits.
2014 marks a change in how things have been done. Up to this year almost all of the county offices were elected the same year as the presidential mid -term elections. Then, two years later, during the presidential election, a minority number of commission and council seats were up for election. So for example there are three commissioners in Davis County, two of their offices were up for election during mid-term elections and one during the presidential election. In Salt Lake County it was five council seats during mid-terms and four during presidential year. That was done to give voters an opportunity to make changes if they didn’t like how things were running and not have to wait four years.
A couple years ago legislation was passed to try to make it even more equal for the counties. So now, starting this year (2014), all the usual offices are up for re-election, but four of the county offices (Assessors, Recorders, Treasurers, and Surveyors) are running for six-year terms this one time only. The Clerks, Auditors, Sheriffs, and Attorneys are running for their usual four-year terms. The commissioners and council members will also continue as they are. This will balance out the county elections in the future. Just as a side note, the cities hold their elections for council members and mayors during the other years.
Could there ever be more counties in Utah?
For sure, if a new bill was passed. But I think everyone is pretty content right now (and have been for nearly 100 years)
What are a couple main things county government does that city government does not?
Counties do a lot – simply because the jurisdiction is much larger. It wouldn’t make sense for every city and town to have a health department, for example. So a lot of services perform more efficiently as a county function. Each county performs different services depending on what each of them feels they need. Some run recreation centers, while others don’t. Some handle snow removal or trash collection while others don’t. One county runs an airport, a couple run golf courses.
A couple of main things would be health departments, elections, property tax assessment, collection and distribution, prisons, search and rescue, criminal prosecution, libraries (for the most part), there are probably lots of others.
What are some things city government does that county government does not?
Not much if anything. It has more to do with the jurisdiction of their services – who they do things for. Cities are more concentrated. There might be some differences in structure or levels of service, for example cities must pay closer attention to street lights as there are far more of those in a city than outside city limits.