Utah has 29 counties, but it could get a few more under a bill awaiting debate at the Utah Legislature. A proposal being pushed by Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan would allow communities to break off and form their own county.
“This is probably the ultimate foundation for local control — is that we get to pick our own government,” Coleman told a House committee earlier this month. “Within some state boundaries, within some state code and constitutional parameters, we get to choose.”
So far, jurisdictions in Salt Lake and San Juan Counties are reportedly exploring what that local control could mean for them. Notably, those two counties saw significant gains by Democrats in the November election.
Speaking in favor of the bill on her own behalf, Sherrie Ohrn, a city councilwoman in Herriman, said if a relationship with a county is not working, communities should be free to leave. Residents “shouldn’t be held hostage by the other party,” she said.
In San Juan County, Navajos now hold two out of three county commission seats, a historic first in the county with a majority Native American population. One of the new County Commissioners, Kenneth Maryboy, said he believes the bill is a bad idea.
“I believe that this particular bill is the wrong way of doing things,” Maryboy said. He and fellow Commissioner Willie Greyeyes were at the state capitol this week to lobby against the bill.
Maryboy said residents in the county are already divided and he worries the idea of secession would “make matters worse.”
The political climate has been so contentious in the southeast Utah county that Maryboy added a disclaimer: he was speaking about the bill as a San Juan County resident rather than an elected official.
The bill previously passed a House committee with support from Republican lawmakers. A vote before the full House was delayed earlier this week after Coleman said she was still meeting with stakeholders on possible changes.