WASHINGTON COUNTY (UTAH). COUNTY COMMISSION
Agency History #1540
The county commission was created by legislative act (Laws of Utah 1896 ch. CXXXI) after Utah became a state. The commission governs the affairs of the county.
The county commission is the executive and legislative body for the county. The commission supervises county agencies and personnel and creates necessary districts to administer the functions of the county; controls the finances of the county, assessing taxes, serving as a board of equalization, authorizing bids, and settling and allowing claims for goods and services; administers elections; oversees the welfare of the county's inhabitants by coordinating public health, sanitation (including burials), safety (including jails and juvenile detention), recreation, and programs for the poor; licenses businesses; controls zoning and development, including transportation systems; manages public property and buildings; and coordinates programs for livestock, crops, and natural resources in the county.
The commissioners supervise the conduct of county and district officers who handle public revenues. They also were to examine and audit their accounts. This was more broadly stated in 1909 when the commissioners were given supervisory activity, including prosecution for delinquency, over all county officers and those of county subdivisions. They can appoint certain officials, and in the case of vacancies in elective county, district, or precinct offices, may make temporary appointments. Unless otherwise specified by law, the commission is to fix and pay the salaries of county officers. The commission also is required to furnish most books and stationery for use by county officers.
The commission is to furnish seals for most county officers and the district court clerk. In 1915, the county recorder with the concurrence of the commission could record forms in pre-printed record books. The commissioners have the power to direct the sheriff to attend all their meetings to preserve order or serve notices, subpoenas, citations, etc. The commission can subpoena individuals or officials to witness in matters of public concern.
The county commissioners settle and allow claims against the county treasury. They are to establish a salary fund and other funds as necessary to transact business and can transfer moneys between funds. They can advertise for and accept bids on a number of goods or services. They are to provide for regular publication of a financial statement for the county. In 1980, the board of county commissioners was authorized to adopt any or all of the provisions of the state procurement code.
The county can purchase and hold land and personal property as well as manage and dispose of property for county purposes. The county also can receive by donation or lease any real or personal property and has the right to exercise eminent domain. The commission can levy and collect taxes as authorized by law for general county, district, or school purposes; the legislature also periodically authorized the county to levy and collect special taxes such as the one begun in 1911 for displaying products at exhibitions. The commissioners were authorized to establish and maintain a cumulative reserve fund for major improvements beginning in 1959. They were authorized to assess sales taxes the same year. The county commission is the county board of equalization. They may remit or abate taxes of any insane, idiotic, infirm, or indigent person. The county also may borrow money and issue bonds of indebtedness within designated limits.
The commissioners create, modify, or abolish election precincts; appoint judges of election; and canvass election returns. Until 1990, the number of precincts created in turn determined the number of justices of the peace and constables. The commissioners set the amount of bond for county officers, and in case of vacancies in an elected office, the county commission appointed officials until an election was held. Upon petition of the citizenry, the commission may hold an election to change the county seat. Also upon petition, the board of county commissioners is to hold an election for the incorporation of cities and towns. As of 1901, upon petition, the commission also must hold an election to annex territory to another county or to have another county's territory annexed to the county. Under 1913 law, similar procedures are to be followed to create a new county out of an existing county.
The county can sue and be sued. The commissioners are to control and direct the prosecution and defense of all suits in which the county is a party. From 1899 until the law was rewritten in 1907, the commissioners specifically were required to sue those who brought livestock into the county without the proper certification. Since 1943, the county commission has been empowered to study the processes and methods of county government and to present the findings to the legislature or Congress; costs are considered a proper claim on county funds.
The commission is to provide for the working of prisoners in the county jail on public projects. The county commissioners were to bring to the attention of the court any cases of incorrigible children where the parents were unable, unwilling, or negligent in controlling the child. As of 1909, the county commission could establish boy and girl detention homes or pay to send the child to facilities in another county. Similar provisions were made in 1909 to coordinate services with a children's aid society in the case of child neglect. A 1961 law made it the duty of the county commissioners to arrange for detention facilities or services of some sort, not necessarily within the county, and allowed for the appointment of an advisory board. The law was repealed in 1988 when responsibility was transferred to the state.
In 1927, the commission was authorized to provide for the organization and support of a county fire department and to create fire districts in watershed areas. The power granted over watersheds was repealed in 1937 with the creation of a state fire control board. In 1951, upon petition of property holders, the county commission could hold hearings and elections and create fire protection districts; this was modified in 1965 to permit creation by ordinance as well as by election. Fire protection district commissioners were either elected or, in the case of a county-wide fire protection district, consisted of the county commissioners. After 1975, no fire protection districts could be created except as special service districts.
From 1947 until 1987 the county board of commissioners could establish and administer a retirement system for county employees. For counties with four or more regularly employed paid firemen, the legislature in 1945 provided for the appointment of a three member civil service board by the county commission. Since the enactment of legislation in 1960, the county commission can establish a merit system commission to test and establish a register of peace officers from which the sheriff, with the approval of the county commission, may appoint subordinate officers. A merit system was extended in 1969 to employees other than peace officers, although it is optional in counties with less than 130 employees not covered by other merit systems.
The commissioners are to provide suitable offices for county purposes. They are to erect or repair and furnish a courthouse, jail, hospital or other such public buildings as necessary. They accept bids and let contracts for construction. They can sell any buildings no longer required, including conducting tax sales. They are required to insure county buildings and furniture in the name of the county. Since 1981, the commission can organize a building authority to finance and construct public buildings. Under 1988 law, with the approval of the sheriff, the county commission may contract with private contractors for management, maintenance, operation and construction of county jails.
The commissioners can divide the county into road, sanitary, and other districts as required and appoint officials to oversee such districts. They are to lay out, maintain, control, erect, manage, or abolish and abandon public roads, ferries, and bridges. They can grant licenses and franchises for constructing, repairing or taking tolls thereon. They also can grant franchises along and over public roads. Starting in 1925, the commission was given similar authority over airplane landing fields and hangars. Since 1963, the commission may build livestock highways. A method by which the county commission could incorporate public transit districts was enacted in 1969. The commission can provide for the construction of gates across certain highways to avoid the necessity of building highway fences under 1976 law. The law in 1977 allowed the county commission to issue permits authorizing certain aircraft to land on or take off on designated county roads.
Until changes in the law in 1905, the commission could create or modify boundaries of school districts. The commission could still name the districts by resolution and create precincts within county districts for the election of school board members. This was repealed in 1988, but the commission was to reapportion county district precincts at least once every ten years.
Upon petition, the commission could create drainage districts and under 1913 law, appoint a three member board of supervisors. This law went out of effect in 1975 when drainage districts were to be created as special service districts. The county is to acquire water rights, sink wells, erect reservoirs and pumps to obtain water for sprinkling roads or other county purposes. Since enacted in 1909, the commission, upon petition, can create irrigation districts after conducting the necessary elections. From 1917 until 1935, the commission was required to enact rules and regulations regarding water flow from artesian wells. Since 1921, the commission has been authorized to call for water surveys.
Under 1923 law, upon petition, the commission could create mosquito abatement districts. The law in 1933 provided details for the commission's creation of water supply, sewer, and flood control districts and the construction and maintenance of associated systems. Many particulars were altered by the legislature over the years. For example sewage law was further elaborated in 1947, providing for the creation of special improvement districts, appointing trustees, taking bids, and financing improvements. The 1947 law was repealed in 1949 and replaced by one which, among other changes, required electing trustees. In 1953 the law was substantially amended and contained provisos by which in some circumstances the county commission would serve as board of trustees and in others appoint a three member board, or upon petition, hold an election for trustees. By 1957, improvement districts could be created for streets, curb and gutter, lighting, sidewalks, etc. as well as water supply and sewers.
Also in 1957, the legislature approved the creation of special service areas to provide so-called municipal type servicesextended police and fire protection, recreation, libraries, sewage, garbage collection, health services, etc. The county commission could hold hearings, create such areas, tax or bond for such areas, and appoint all or, in some cases, part, of a three-member board of trustees to oversee the service area which became a body corporate and politic. A 1969 re-write allowed the commission to constitute all of the trustees, to appoint a board, or to have trustees elected.
In 1969, improvement districts to coordinate conversion of overhead utilities to underground ones were authorized. Laws in 1985 and 1986 allowed for the creation of improvement districts for distributing gas and electricity. The 1975 "Utah Sidewalk Construction Act" encouraged construction of sidewalks and authorized the use of a portion of road funds for pedestrian safety devices developed pursuant to the rules and regulations of the state department of transportation. Revisions and recodifications of special improvement districts law in 1979 allowed county commissions to make improvements or create special improvement districts for streets, sidewalks, parking facilities, drains, lighting, landscaping, waterworks, parks, libraries, recreational facilities, etc.
Initially, the commissioners were to provide for the care and maintenance of the indigent sick or otherwise dependent poor of the county. In some cases, the commission could enforce support by relatives. The commissioners were to erect and maintain hospitals and poorhouses or otherwise provide for those same services. They appointed a county physician and officers to head the hospital and poorhouse. They also were to provide for a farm connected to the county hospital or poorhouse. They subsidized the commitment of the indigent insane to the state asylum. They could make regulations to prevent the leaving of indigent, insane, contagious, or dead persons in the county if not residents. In 1974, the county was relieved of responsibility for making medical expenditures to persons eligible under Social Security and Medicare. In 1981, the county was relieved of the responsibility for the dependent poor, and in 1987 was also relieved of responsibility for the indigent sick. The commission could continue to provide a farm in connection with county facilities, nursing care facilities, employment aid, rehabilitation programs, etc. and accept funds for the operation of such programs.
From 1903 to 1993, the county commission could appoint one of their members as commissioner of the poor; 1911 law allowed for the appointment of a pauper clerk and one assistant to the pauper clerk as well. From 1913 to 1993, the commission was to provide funds for the partial support of dependent mothers. The law from 1929 to 1947 provided for the county commission to grant monthly pensions to the elderly poor. Similarly, from 1931 to 1947, the commissioners could levy a tax to care for certain needy blind adults in the county; applications for funding were submitted to the commission and reports made by the commission to the school for the deaf and blind. The county always had paid for indigent blind at the school and continued to do so until 1987. In 1937, a county or district welfare board was created to coordinate all aid. This board was made into an advisory board of assistance payments administration for the state public welfare department in 1973; the act creating the board was repealed in 1988.
The law in 1917 specified methods for the commission to establish and fund a public hospital in the county. The law was repealed in 1933, and any county hospitals which had been established under the 1917 law were since placed under the jurisdiction of the county commission rather than under an elected board of trustees.
Commissioners were to provide for the burial of the indigent dead. In 1915, the commission was given the right to purchase and lay out cemeteries and to regulate the burial of the dead, not just the indigent dead. A law passed in 1945 allowed for the creation of cemetery maintenance districts upon petition to the county commission by landowners and a subsequent election. Another law the same year required the permission of a majority of the board of county commissioners for a court justice to exhume a body. A majority also was required for the justice to be able to subpoena a physician and a chemist to perform an autopsy; the state medical examiner's office assumed full responsibility for these actions in 1975.
From 1901 to 1921 commissioners were to provide a non-pauper burial for indigent veterans. From 1917 until the law's repeal in 1923, the commission was to receive and retain lists of all those male residents eligible for military duty. Since its authorization in 1927, the commission may tax for, erect, and maintain memorials to veterans in the county.
The commissioners are to make provisions for the health of the county and to pay for the expenses incurred. Whenever a sanitary district was formed, the commission was to appoint a board of health. In 1898, these appointees became district health officers, who in conjunction with the county commission, were to constitute a board of health. A 1981 revision of the health code required county commissions to create and maintain a local health department to provide public health services, solid waste management, and water management. The local board of health which oversaw the county health department was appointed by the county commission. Beginning with 1988 law, the county commission could appoint mental health advisory councils. Under 1990 law commissioners were to provide mental health and substance abuse services monitored by the state, the county commission being declared a local mental health authority and a substance abuse authority. Beginning in 1990, the county was required to submit solid waste management plans to the state.
Under 1905 law, the commissioners were to appoint registrars of vital statistics for two-year appointments. This was in effect until legislation in 1945 made local registrar appointments a function of the state health department.
The commission was to license all businesses within the county, outside incorporated cities, for the purposes of regulation and revenue. Businesses are defined as any enterprise for the purpose of economic gain and so includes all shows, exhibitions, and lawful games. Since 1903, the commission was further required to provide for the examination, registration, and licensing of stationary engineers. The commission is to provide for the inspection, measurement or graduation of any merchandise, manufacture, or commodity and to appoint the necessary officers. Since 1923, the commission could regulate advertising along county roads.
The commissioners are to make and enforce police, sanitary, and other laws and regulations within their area of jurisdiction as long as they do not conflict with general laws. They are to adopt rules on the storage of gunpowder or other explosives. Under 1941 law, until repealed in 1981, local defense councils could be created. Since 1977, county commissioners have been authorized to offer rewards towards law enforcement, and with the approval of county commissioners, any county officer or agency could offer rewards to the same extent.
The commissioners provide for the destruction of certain wild animals, birds, noxious weeds, and injurious insects. They tax dogs and provide for the prevention of injuries to cattle and sheep. They could hold elections, or after 1969 create an ordinance, on the issue of fencing vs. open range and thereafter make ordinances on what constitutes a lawful fence. Until repealed in 1979, the commission was to provide each poundkeeper with a brand. Also repealed in 1979 was the 1923 law requiring the commission to levy a tax for tubercular cattle indemnities. Since 1927, the commission has been authorized to provide for the elimination of abandoned horses. The commission is to make regulations for the protection of fish and game as long as they do not conflict with state law.
As of 1903, the commission, upon application of the agricultural college, could lease the college land for an experimental farm. In 1915, the commission was authorized to fund a farm and home demonstrator from the Utah Agricultural College. Revisions of the law in 1929 allows the county commission to fund agricultural extension work in the county through the college.
Commissioners could encourage the planting and preservation of shade and ornamental trees on public grounds until the law was repealed in 1986. They were to appoint and pay fruit tree inspectors and deputies (until 1899 when the deputies became appointed by the inspectors) and issue certificates to commercial sprayers (until 1897 when the certification was issued by the county inspector). This was changed in 1903 when the county commission, upon petition, was to appoint a three member county horticultural board auxiliary to the state board; the county board was to appoint an inspector. The 1903 law was repealed in 1905 thus abolishing the county board, but the county commission was directed to appoint a county horticultural inspector and as many deputies as necessary. Provisions for appointing a horticultural inspector were repealed in 1917 when the commission was authorized to appoint a crop pest inspector and any necessary deputies. The appointment of crop inspectors by the county was repealed in turn in 1923. Since 1935, the board of county commissioners has been permitted to establish pure sugar-beet seed districts.
As of 1897 it was the duty of the county commissioners to provide for transporting all books and records from the mining recorders to the county recorders where after receipt of a petition from at least one hundred miners, the information was to be copied with the originals returned. In 1899, the law provided for updated copies to be provided upon request of the district mining recorder to the county commission. By the 1930s, all such duties had passed strictly to the county recorder.
The owner of land in the county may layout and plat that land into lots, streets, etc. but is required to obtain the approval of the county commission prior to recording those plats. A major addition to the law in 1941 authorized the commission to regulate planning and zoning of unincorporated territory within the county and to adopt a master plan. Since 1953, any county could appoint a planning board or continue to have the commission serve as the planning board. The commission also may grant or deny building permits as a means of regulating zoning. The creation of a housing authority to assure decent housing for low income residents was authorized in 1969. Also since 1969, the county commission may serve as a redevelopment agency to plan and accept or borrow funds to renovate blighted areas. In 1991 the county commission was mandated to adopt ordinances for residential facilities for the handicapped and elderly. Also in 1991, the county was to appoint a board of adjustment to assure equity in zoning ordinances.
Legislation in 1965 empowered the board of county commissioners to provide for the development of the county's mineral, water, manpower, industrial and other resources. A committee was to assist in promoting development and to make recommendations to the county commissioners for resource development programs. A law specifically providing for the creation, maintenance, and leasing of industrial parks was initially enacted in 1969.
Since a 1923 law, land could be acquired for playgrounds and recreation centers. Beginning in 1965, the county commission was authorized to establish, promote, and finance recreational, tourist, and convention promotion bureaus to be funded by a transient room tax. In 1967, the commission was authorized to acquire, preserve, and protect historical areas and sites. This was expanded in 1979 to provide for the acquisition, compilation, preservation, publication and dissemination of information reflecting the history and culture of the county. Beginning in 1978, the commission was authorized to levy a tax for the acquisition, construction, establishment, maintenance, and operation of a public planetarium. Beginning in 1982 the county commission could levy a tax for establishing a zoo.
The county commission consists of three members elected from the county. The county selectmen of the Washington County Court (UTSVH02719-A) continued as a board of county commissioners until the election and qualification of their successors later in 1896. Vacancies are filled by appointment until the next election. The commissioners elect one of their members to be chairman. Two members constitute a quorum. The commission makes and enforces its own operating rules and regulations. The county clerk is the clerk of the board of county commissioners, responsible for the records and minutes of the board and other clerical and recording duties. Meetings must be held regularly at the county seat.
A county commissioner's term of office was two years until 1902 when one was to be elected for four years and two for two years with elections every two years at which one would be elected for four years and one for two years. In 1990 the term of all commissioners was extended to four years. A commissioner must be an elector of the county he represents and must have resided there at least one year immediately preceding the election.
Vacancies were filled by appointment by the remaining commissioners until the next election. The law in 1898 provided for the governor to fill the vacancy if the commissioners took more than thirty days to do so, or if there was not a majority remaining in office, the governor was to appoint one or two members until there was a majority. Vacancies were to be filled with members of the same political party as the person vacating the office. A 1979 re-write of the law required the county central committee of the party to provide a candidate list.
A 1972 constitutional amendment authorized selection of other forms of county government, but Washington County residents have retained the three member commission.
The county commission directly appoints numerous officials and oversees county agencies. The commission is the Board of Equalization. The county has the option of creating other positions and districts.
COMPILED BY: A.C. Cone, July 1996
Legislature. Laws of Utah, 1896-1994 (Series 83155)
Legislature. Utah Code Annotated, 1896-1994 (Series 83238)
Page Last Updated July 2, 2003.