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Down a member, the remaining Utah County commissioners want to expand from 3 to 5

The Utah County Courthouse in Provo, where all three county commissioners work, March 26, 2024.
Tilda Wilson
The Utah County Courthouse in Provo, where all three county commissioners work, March 26, 2024.

Utah County is already home to 719,174 people, and its population is expected to double by 2065. The county government, on the other hand, only has three commissioners in charge of making decisions. And with one unable to work right now because of a medical issue, some think it’s time for a change.

Commissioner Amelia Powers-Gardner said working on a three-member commission for such a large county is “very tough.”

“We have a large enough county that if we went to five commissioners, I think they could still be full-time and still have the load,” she said.

Salt Lake County, for example, has nine council members and a mayor. The state’s most populous county uses what is known as a council-executive model. Other smaller counties like Cache, Tooele and Wasatch follow that model or a council-manager model with five or seven-member councils. Otherwise, Utah code specifies a minimum of three county commissioners.

“I go to conferences with other commissioners from around the country,” said Powers-Gardner, “And you ask another commissioner, you know, ‘How many constituents do you have?’ They’re saying 30,000, maybe 70,000, maybe 150,000. When you look at it, that we cover 750,000, it’s just crazy.”

Powers-Gardner believes a larger commission could help with the county’s current dilemma.

Commissioner Tom Sakievich has been battling a brain tumor since the end of 2023. As a result, he’s been absent from his job. His fellow commissioners have been filling in for him, but now they’ve asked him to resign so he can focus on his health. Sakievich told them in an email he has no plans to do so.

Powers-Gardner said this has significantly impacted what they are getting done.

“I delayed a procedure for over a week just so I could get through the next commission meeting, knowing that I would then have recovery time so we wouldn't have to cancel a meeting,” she said.

A five-member commission would make the added workload manageable “because then each of us could pick up 25% of the job that the commissioner can't do, and that really wouldn't stretch us too much.”

County Attorney Jeffrey Gray agrees that an expanded commission would better suit a county this size. Beyond the workload, he said a five-member commission “is much more representative of a large county like this.”

Right now, all three members of Utah County’s commission are “at large,” meaning they represent the county as a whole. With larger commissions or councils, some members usually represent specific subsections of the county.

In 2020, Proposition 9 failed to change the county government to a five-member council and mayor system. At the time, many worried it would result in higher taxes.

But expanded county governments do seem to work well for counties with smaller tax bases. Morgan County voters expanded their commission to five members in 2021. Commissioner Blaine Fackrell said it's going well.

“We only have 13,000 people in this county if we're lucky. And, you know, five seems like a lot, but, boy, we can get a lot of things done.”

And with five people to rely on, Fackrell said it takes a lot to slow things down.

“As long as we have three commissioners, we can still have a commission meeting. And we have had one circumstance in three years where we had to go ahead and do something with just three of us.”

Tilda is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in the Central Utah bureau based out of Provo.
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