Two important ideas to know about
Utah (and every state) has the right to control its own land and government. Two major categories exist where Utahns need to decide if they’re ok with giving up this right. This is a fundamental right for the people of Utah. Separate from political opinions, it is a basic foundation of the power of the people. First, Utah’s land is 70% controlled by the federal government. Some of this is legal and some of this is illegal. Second, private corporations with unelected leaders are now being granted the power to control land and even political power in the state, both of these ideas are growing with little oversight from Utah citizens, and it’s up to the people to accept or reject these movements, either partially or completely.
The choice is yours. By default, doing nothing will accept this trend, or organizing with the proper action tools, can enforce the people’s power
The state is increasing a new kind of government district
“Special Districts” (or “local districts”) are mentioned in the state constitution as a way to organize municipal functions as needed, but are being redefined outside the state constitution in a way that now makes them illegal. They should be simple, but are becoming complex with changes in recent years, especially this year’s legislative session 2023. There seems to be a lot of moving pieces to special districts, making it difficult for the average Utah citizen to understand what is happening. This information is very important to how your local governments are run. Currently (may change) there are 835 different special districts in Utah.
Important generalized takeaways for the public to know about this emerging form of government
- PRIVATE GOVERNMENTS: Private corporations instead of government running cities
- They will still have access to public money, but potentially no accountability to voters
- Public/Private partnerships giving private corporations power over government functions
- Utah Citizens having no control over these new governments due to:
- Unelected leaders
- Elected Cities and Counties being separated from these private governments
- Strong immunity and independence from the existing constitutional framework
- Private land builders have the tax payer fund their projects, while they reap benefits as if they had funded it privately themselves.
Explaining the new district types – What power do they have?
The district types we have the most information on are:
- Special Service Districts
- Public Infrastructure Districts (PIDs)
- Independent Public Infrastructure Districts (IPIDs)
Utah changed PIDs substantially back in 2019.
Utah has 5 government entities/quasi government systems that are able to create PIDs and use bonds.
- Utah Inland Port Authority
- The Point Authority
- Military Installation Development Authority
- Utah Lake Authority
- State Fair Grounds
While they are mentioned in several locations as falling under Title 17 of the Utah Code and special districts UtahGovReport.org cannot find evidence of that being accurate, PIDs are however. What we did find is under Title 11. They appear to not be monitored or considered under special districts in the existing constitutional government framework. This begs the question as to who is really “over” them? We don’t have a clear answer on that, despite attempts to clarify with various government officials who we expected should have known.
What is tricky about this, and why Utahns need to be aware, is they actually have substantial “power.” but with no oversight.
They can levy taxes, fines, fees and even appoint officials to governing boards (meaning not elected).
One example of this power is demonstrated when the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) was taken to court by Salt Lake County for various concerns over environmental threats. Constitutionally, according to how a “republic” is legally organized, counties are supposed to be supreme over sub-districts within their borders. Regardless of the details of the case, it is a big deal that the sub-district was able to exercise power over the county and win their case. Should a county and or city, or even state, not have final say over large developments, projects, and or programs being placed in their city/county? Traditionally, sub-districts have power to defend themselves from higher authority when constitutional violations occur, otherwise counties and cities are supreme as they represent the voice of the people for the county.
To explain this better, a second example that has been in the news lately is Disney World in Florida. Disney was, and in some ways still is, an independent special district, even though they’re a private corporation. They had quite a bit of authority in their district. Some say complete sovereignty to govern, tax people, take property (use eminent domain), etc. where the people had no say in how Disney ran the district.
Below are two different takes on what has happened in Florida so you can decide for yourself where you stand.
Whether you agree with Florida or Disney this poses a serious question for Utah.
Changing ALL local districts to become special districts across the entire state?
In our recent legislative session HB22 and HB77 were passed- these swapped ALL local districts to special districts. Legislators stated it was simply a clean-up in legal language. While that may be part of the story there are other things to consider as we review what lawmakers said about these bills during a Greater Salt Lake Municipal Services District – Board of Trustees
Meeting Date: 02/22/2023 on this subject…
- The change was intentional to get federal funding. Utah found during the pandemic they were unable to get full federal funding for first responders because the code is listed as local instead of special. What about “Special Districts“ vs “Local Districts” makes them acceptable to the federal government?
“House Bill 22 is one of two bills where the original sole purpose of the bills was to change local district to special district wherever it appears in the Utah code. And that ended up requiring more than 800 pages of bill language, which is why they cut it into two separate bills. The reason for that I think everyone is aware of, when ARPA funding was being considered at the federal level, there was federal legislation to provide money to assist local units of government in reacting to COVID and other problems. The problem with those bills is they use the language special district because that’s what our types of entities are called in every other state except the state of Utah. And the national special districts coalition was able to amend at least one of those bills so that it would include Utah’s local districts.”
This brings into question do we want to take more federal money or not? Is it okay in some cases or not at all? Is this federal money even needed for Utah?
- Next is about independent districts, local and special. This shows there’s a clear intention to make these districts more independent.
“local districts have been local districts for 15 years or so, because before that we were special districts. There was an effort to try to draw a more clear line between special service districts which are a different kind of local governmental entity from the rest of the so-called special districts which are the ones that are independent. And now local districts in the future they will be independent special districts. “
- And the third item that was changed, is an admission of intention, “this bill basically will take the control of the district away from the county commission”
“When the bill, both bills passed, the other one is House Bill 77, both bills passed the House easily. When they got over into the Senate, a senator who has a significant amount of clout decided that he wanted to fix a specific problem in a specific county with a specific county commission. And basically in return for us allowing him to put language in the bill that made it so that county commission could not prevent a local district that was formed down there from actually doing what it was formed to do. And the county commission literally, they appointed themselves as the board of trustees and then did absolutely nothing and refused to do anything. And so this bill basically will take the control of the district away from the county commission and give it to the local property owners. So that language went into House Bill 22 and he became the sponsor in the Senate of both 22 and House Bill 77 and he assured us that he would get both bills through if we would cooperate with him.”
Once again there are a lot of moving pieces to special districts, and they include things like water, energy, mosquito abatement, etc, meaning most touch on the infrastructure of basic human needs.
The question becomes at that point is local better vs state or federal? Do we want “special” districts, or “local,” or the quasi “independent” districts? Is it ok to set up special districts this way, even though it’s a violation of the law (state constitution) that is meant to keep private hands from controlling government?
Please read through these articles and documents so you can decide for yourself what you think is best for Utah, or if you want to inquire about it further.
We are happy to answer any questions you have, and if we don’t know we will do our best to put you in the right direction.
HB406-LAND USE, DEVELOPMENT, AND MANAGEMENT ACT -Some unique things were done with this bill and the one above that we highly recommend the public know about. Please make sure you read the related articles under “articles” in the next section below. What took place with this bill and SB84 is unusal.
SB20 – 2023- Military Installation Development Authority – We highly recommend reading this bill thoroughly.
HB51- RAILWAY -ties in with the UIPA PID
Articles related to SB84/HB406
Utah Little Manual on Local and Special Districts – 2022- several bills were passed in 2023 that changed some of these. Please reach out to Mr. Dougall and ask for an updated manual.
Property Tax Paying for Utah Water 2022 – Crossover with Water