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UTA reluctant to proceed with annexation vote

Article Date: 
14 August, 2014 - 13:58

The Utah Transit Authority board recommended not proceeding with placing a Morgan County annexation measure on the November ballot, saying an overwhelming majority of the feedback they received was in opposition.
“Public input weighed heavily on the decision,” said Ryan Taylor, UTA coordinated mobility manager.  “We weighed all factors including public support, the nature of the county and its rural setting, and the needs of the community at this time.”
UTA and Morgan County Councilman Logan Wilde agreed that this is just not the proper time for a “marriage of Morgan and UTA.”
The UTA board subcommittee met and made the recommendation Wednesday.  The Morgan County Council can still vote whether or not to keep the tax increase issue off the ballot.  
Teresa Lake, Morgan County deputy clerk auditor, said the county has not yet received enough information from the state lieutenant governor’s office to determine a deadline for placing items on the November ballot. The council has canceled its Aug. 19 meeting and is not planning to meet again until Sept. 2, a short two months before the election.
The UTA annexation was a topic of discussion during the public comment period of the Aug. 5 Morgan County Council meeting.
Councilman Ned Mecham suggested that if they determined a collective opposition to UTA annexation among its constituents, the council take another vote to decide what would be on the November ballot.
“The council is divided amongst this UTA thing,” said John Barber, who is running unopposed for the District 2 county council seat.  “From what I have heard, there is not a lot of support for it.”
The UTA board agreed, saying they had 37 comments in opposition submitted to them, only one in favor, and three that were neutral.
“The board is appreciative and wants to gauge public support, to listen and hear what people had to say,” Taylor said.  “A majority was negative.”
On Aug. 5, county resident Tina Cannon said the county could further research state resources available for transportation options.  For example, resources such as computer scheduling programs, the donation of refurbished vans, and actual funding from other state departments could assist the county with transportation needs.
Cannon offered to help coordinate transportation efforts in Morgan.
“I am willing to spearhead it if the county is not going to go forward with” the annexation request on the ballot,” Cannon said.
The UTA board agreed, voting to allow UTA officials to assist the county with transportation needs, perhaps funded by state and federal rural transit grants rather than a sales tax.
Cannon said that when Morgan residents heard about the UTA proposal, they automatically assumed it would be the traditional bus service as found on the Wasatch Front.  However, UTA’s proposal included a first-of-its-kind hybrid van service catering to commuters and the elderly.  In the three public hearings held over the months, many attendees mentioned that Morgan residents could still be part of a van pool without raising new taxes or being annexed into UTA.
“I am surprised at how uninformed people are.  People hear UTA, they are thinking it is a bus service,” Cannon said.  “We don’t want to do the bus system with drivers and everything that goes into this.  You are going to get people voting for things they really aren’t getting.  That is a concern.”
Taylor said abandoning the ballot item at this point doesn’t mean UTA will ignore the county.
“We want to really highlight there is cooperation and support from UTA to Morgan,” he said.  “Certainly we can give advice and counsel, and connections to funding to meet Morgan’s needs.  In the future as Morgan and UTA grow, we will have to look at transportation needs.  We are interested in mobility, especially for those who don’t have access.”
Taylor said UTA would be available to help Morgan “gain knowledge and experience” from other rural communities such as Toole, which is experimenting with nontraditional transit services.