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Even though they don't like it, Salt Lake County Council members have approved the language that will appear on ballots mailed to tens of thousands of unincorporated-area residents for the Nov. 3 "Community Preservation" election.

Council members fear unintended consequences could result from the Legislature's mandated wording, fooling many uninformed residents into voting to turn their areas into cities when they really just want to maintain the status quo.

The cleanest way to keep things the way they are now would be for each of the six townships to vote to become metro townships, then collectively form a board to determine what level of services will be provided to all of their areas through a municipal-services district being set up by the county.

But council members believe there's a bias for municipal incorporation in the highly specific wording dictated by lawmakers in the 270-page bill that authorized the election — after four revisions.

"This ballot-language verbiage is almost dream language for the Utah League of Cities & Towns," Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove said. "This verbiage is not fair, in my mind. … We [could end up] presiding over the creation of cities that could be contrary to the will of the people."

The problem, as council members see it, is that voters in the six existing townships — Copperton, Kearns, Magna, Emigration Canyon, Millcreek and White City — will get a ballot in the mail that gives them a choice: Vote to become a city or a metro township.

"To the average person not involved in politics, they'll look at this [choice] and they won't know what a metro township is but they will know what a city is," said Councilman Jim Bradley, predicting "a lot of people may fall for that" and vote to incorporate when they actually would prefer to live in a metro township.

Confusing the matter further is a legislative requirement that existing townships be described as "planning townships." Local neighborhood activists and county officials agree that is a term that's never been used — and they're afraid it will mix up uninformed people even more. But a formal legal opinion from county Deputy District Attorney Gavin Anderson said the county has no choice but to follow the legislatively required language.

So what's the county to do?

"We'll just have to be sure that through our education process that we explain [the options]," Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw said.

Some of those educational materials will be pushed in unincorporated-area neighborhoods by community council leaders. But the County Council doesn't believe that approach will reach enough voters, so they are looking into the publication and distribution of a voters' information guide that will be mailed to homes and businesses well before the Nov. 3 vote.

Kimberly Barnett, the associate deputy mayor who has been coordinating county preparations for the Community Preservation vote, is scheduled to let the County Council know Tuesday how much it will cost to mail a pamphlet to residences of the 160,000 unincorporated-area residents.

"None of us like spending money," Councilman Steve DeBry said, "but to get the message out and counteract this poor verbiage, we might have to bite the bullet."

For each of the six townships, information in the voter pamphlet would include a financial analysis of the varying impacts of incorporating as a city or becoming a metro township. That material is being compiled by the public finance division of Zions Bank, an outside consultant retained by the county to study these economic issues.

The county has retained another consultant, Amplify Relations out of Reno, to help disseminate information about the election, largely through town hall meetings tentatively set for September, Barnett said.

County officials also are looking to add more clarifying language on maps that will be mailed out with the ballots. The law is not as restrictive about wording on maps as it is about ballot language. —

An adjustment

Salt Lake City has agreed to let the Sons of Utah Pioneers (SUP) keep its parking lot in Millcreek Township.

The city had filed to annex all of the land it owns in Tanner's gully into the city because of the impending Community Preservation vote, but that caused some heartburn in the county because it would separate the SUP national offices at 3301 E. Louise Ave. (2920 South) jurisdictionally from the building's parking lot, theoretically causing access problems for Unified Fire Authority and Unified Police Department personnel responding to calls to the gully.

But deputy District Attorney Gavin Anderson said last week the city agreed not to include the parking lot in its petition, although that change means the city has to restart its annexation procedure for the rest of its holdings in the gully.