ST. GEORGE — A ballot initiative submitted to the Washington County Clerk’s Office would change the number of county commissioners from three to seven if voters ultimately passed the measure. The reason the initiative’s sponsors give for the change is to provide better representation for a county of nearly 180,000 people.
“For quite some time its been obvious to me the three-member county commission is outdated and obsolete,” Allen Davis, the man behind the proposed commission change, told St. George News on Thursday.
Davis, along with five others who signed their names to the proposal, submitted the ballot initiative petition to the Washington County Clerk’s Office on Thursday morning. If approved by the county, the process of gathering signatures can begin with the hope of getting the measure on the November ballot.
Greg Aldred, a co-signer on the petition, spoke of the need to grow the commission due to Washington County’s increasing population.
“I’m looking at where our population is,” he said. “We had three commissioners back in the 80s when my dad was on the commission. We had 26,000 people in the whole county back then.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Washington County’s current population is estimated to be around 177,500.
Davis and Aldred, both of whom have previously run for seats on the County Commission as Republicans, said it was time for the commission to grow with the county so its people could have better representation.
“We’re growing,” Aldred said. “There’s not representation with just three commissioners.”
Davis also said he believes concern is prioritized for the urban center of the county by the commission over the rural parts. Areas outside of the St. George urban area, like those up state Route 9, state Route 18 and state Route 59, will have a better chance at representation from a commissioner who lives in their area, he said.
“I think its the way to go myself,” Davis said.
Davis’ ballot initiative proposes to replace the three, full-time county commissioners with seven, part-time commissioners. Each commissioner will represent a district based on the county’s population as recorded in the 2020 census. Each commissioner will also be issued a $30,000 salary for their part-time service.
Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson confirmed Friday that the commissioners, along with some other full-time elected county officials, are paid between $90,000 and $100,000 a year while in office.
If placed on the ballot and passed, changes to the commission would take effect January 2023. Initially, four of the districts have be four-year terms, while the other three will be two-year terms. The three two-year term seats would then become four-year terms once the original three terms’ conclude.
“The individual person can effect local government a lot more on the local level than they can effect government on a national level,” Davis said.
The county has 20 days to review the legality of the ballot initiative and either accept or reject it. However, Davis said he feels confident it will be approved and the process of collecting signatures will be able to commence soon after.
Iverson, who is a former president of the Utah Association of Counties, said he doesn’t support the idea of going to a part-time, seven-member commission, and added the best-run counties in the state are managed by those with a county commission format.
The commission, which acts as the legislative and executive arm of the county, is also a full-time position, he said.
“It really does take a full-time job to run the county,” Iverson said.
Davis and Aldred said having the multiple duties assigned to the current three commissioners spread across seven would help take some of the load off each individual commissioner.
If the county did go to a part-time, seven member format, Iverson said someone will have to still run the day-to-day business of the county full-time – possibly the county administrator – much like a city manager does when combined with a part-time city council.
The current, three-member commission, also looks after the whole of the county, and not simply the urban center, Iverson added. Going with a seven-member commission voted in based on population will still likely mean at least half come from the St. George area.
As well, the commission could become more easily divided as individual commissioners consider what benefits their particular district and not the county overall, he said.
Iverson said he also feels attempts to change the commission – which is nothing new, he added – were motivated by a political agenda.
“I would see this as a political agenda to run the county from hard red to light blue,” he said. “People really need to take a solid look at this.”
Washington County Commission Chair Gil Almquist declined to comment on the petition as he said he wanted the county’s legal review of it to conclude first.
Should the petition be approved to continue, its progression will be in the citizens’ hands next.
“It’s up to the people to decide if that’s for them,” Davis said.
Along with Davis and Aldred, others who cosigned the commission change petition include Carol Aldred, Chuck Goode, Paul Van Dam and Lisa Rutherford.
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