The new year will mark Salt Lake County's formal exit from the trash collection business, but some 80,000 affected homeowners are not expected to see any difference in pickups of their garbage and recycling cans or in the bills they pay for that weekly service.
Salt Lake County Special Service District No. 1, formed in 1977 to perform trash collection in the unincorporated county, will break free from the county to become the independent Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District.
Creation of the independent district has been in the works for a year, but nearly ran into problems Tuesday when the Salt Lake County Council was scheduled to give its final approval.
While apologetic about his belated concerns, Democratic Councilman Jim Bradley sought to delay the split perhaps six months because he had too many questions about what it entailed.
He wanted to know about transfers of assets and liabilities, billing processes and impact on employee retirement systems. Bradley also wondered if it might be more appropriate for sanitation to serve as a linchpin for a larger public works service district being investigated by the county and several cities, much in the vein of the Unified Police Department and the Unified Fire Authority.
"I'm not trying to put a stop to this," Bradley said, "but I have a real feeling of responsibility that we must do our due diligence."
Councilmen Steve DeBry, a Republican, and Democrat Arlyn Bradshaw joined Bradley in expressing concern about the move, largely for philosophical reasons.
"I'm wondering if we're becoming a bit district crazy," said DeBry. "We're going to district ourselves out of relevancy."
Added Bradshaw: "How many services do we carve off into special service districts? … When we create more and more boards for every service, that is confusing for the public."
District manager Pam Roberts said sanitation is an ideal candidate to be a regional provider because it has been independent, supported financially by its own dedicated monthly fee, for 35 years.
In that time, a number of its original service areas in the unincorporated county have become part of cities. Taylorsville, Holladay, Herriman and Cottonwood Heights all incorporated and some neighborhoods annexed into Murray, but all remained part of the district. (West Valley City also incorporated, but provides its own collection services).
The cities want more say in sanitation district operations that impact their residents, Roberts said, and this new arrangement clarifies their positions on the nine-member governing board, which continues to include four county council representatives.
One city representative, Scott Bracken, from Cottonwood Heights, said he understood the reservations voiced by the County Council members, but contended that special service districts "are the main form of government in the U.S. because they work. For some services they don't health departments, running the jail. This [service] is an area where a district does work."
He was more diplomatic than Holladay Councilwoman Sabrina Petersen, who gave the recalcitrant County Council members a tongue lashing.
"We've been hashing this out since January. These are questions that were answered a long time ago," she said, adding it was "pathetic" for County Council members to balk now after previously telling Roberts to proceed.
Human Resources Manager John Matthews and deputy District Attorney Rena Beckstead said most of Bradley's concerns have been resolved or could be handled by the sanitation district's board.
Roberts said the biggest problem from delaying district independence involved health care plans for the district's 76 employees.
Employees would have to enroll in two programs in three months if the county required a mid-year transition. A later start also could mean higher premiums, she added.
In the end, the County Council agreed to support the district's separation on Jan. 1, with DeBry noting he was casting "a reluctant aye."
"But that's an aye nonetheless," responded Holladay's Petersen, savoring the victory.
No change is contemplated now in the fee $12.75 a month paid by 80,000 customers of Salt Lake County Special Service District No. 1 when it becomes the Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District on Jan. 1.