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Over Half Of Utah's Counties Have Declared States of Emergency. What Does That Mean?

The entrance of the Washington County Administrative Building is framed between two palm trees. A large sign sits out front.
David Fuchs
Washington County declared a state of emergency last Friday. It was one of the most recent counties to do so.

ST. GEORGE — When the Millard county commission declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, their county became the 19th in Utah to do so in a little over two weeks. 

Before them, it was Washington County, which issued a similar declaration last week. 

“Normally, states of emergency start at the local level,” said Washington County attorney Eric Clarke. “With the corona pandemic, we went backwards.”

Clarke was referring to both the statewide emergency declared by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 6 and the national emergency proclamation issued by the White House on March 13.

Typically, when a county declares a state of emergency, it’s a way for local leaders to signal to state and federal officials with bigger budgets that their communities need support and more resources.

It also allows their governments to relax rules and move more quickly. These changes mainly apply to things like budget adjustments, which normally require a public meeting and 10-days advance notice.

In this instance, county leaders are viewing the declarations as pathways to future resources. And since the emergencies declared at both the state and national levels are aimed at public health, the county-level declarations are targeting the economic effects of the pandemic, Clarke said.

That’s what Weber County commissioner Gage Froerer said was the goal of his county’s emergency declaration when he announced it last Wednesday.

“This will allow us access to both federal and state funds and programs for the benefit of our residents and our businesses,” he said at the press conference. “What it doesn’t mean is that the officials are in a panic mode.”

Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist agreed with that sentiment.

Rather than a cause for alarm, an emergency declaration is a way for local leaders to show their constituents that they are taking proactive steps to seek out funding and make sure their needs are met, Almquist said.

“Each county is going to have its own needs,” he said. “And ours may be different from Duchesne or Garfield or some other county. It shows our local residents that we know exactly what’s happening to their businesses, to their personal savings and also to their health.”

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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