After five long years of trying to bring to pass the uniting of Green River City; it will become one county; Emery County. The Utah Supreme Court ruled on June 25 that the Green River Annexation issue was in fact constitutional and Emery County won on all counts.
Emery County and Green River City filed an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court, when trial court judge Lyle Anderson ruled in favor of Grand County declaring that section 17-2-6(2) of the Utah Code is unconstitutional under certain sections of the Utah Constitution. Judge Anderson failed to certify the election results which approved the annexation of that portion of Green River City located within Grand County into Emery County.
Grand County cross appealed Emery County and Green River City's right for election review. This appeal arises out of a long standing controversy between neighboring Grand County and Emery County and Green River City, which straddles the two counties common border. The Green River portion of Grand County, with the consent and encouragement of Emery County, petitioned the relevant county legislative bodies to be annexed by Emery County, the desired result being that all of Green River would be located in Emery County instead of spread across two counties. These same parties were before the Supreme Court in 1998 in connection with the same underlying controversy. In that case Grand County successfully challenged a previous version of section 17-2-6, the statute at issue. The statutory framework within which the battle rages has been changed by the Utah Legislature through the subsequent enactment of House Bill 49.
The constitutionality of the amended statutory scheme is the central subject of this appeal. On Aug. 3, 2000, Grand County filed an action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against Emery County's attempt to annex the Green River portion of Grand County. This motion was denied and the election to put the issue forth to the voters proceeded, with the knowledge that any party wishing to challenge the results of the election to petition for election review at the appropriate time after the election, would have the right to do so.
The election was held and after the election, Grand County refused to certify the election with regard to the annexation proposal. On Dec. 14, 2000, the trial court granted Emery County and Green River's petition for election review. An annexation proposal must be approved by a majority of voters in the portion to be annexed and in the county in which it will be annexed. In this election a majority of the voters had approved this proposal, but the trial court refused to certify the election results because it held section 17-2-6(2) to be unconstitutional.
Grand County argued that Section 17-2-6(2) only applied to the Green River situation, but presently there are four cities/towns that fall into the class created by the statute. This does not render the statute to be "special" and created only for the Green River situation. As populations grow and shift and communities expand, more may come into existence which fit in this class. On this point Grand County's argument was unavailing.
The supreme court also ruled on the number of voters issue explaining that a voter was one who engages in the act of voting. The definition requires a majority of persons who engage in the act of voting who live in the territory to be annexed, as well as those who live in the county to which that territory is to be annexed, to vote in favor of an annexation proposal in order for it to be approved. In other words, the group of voters of which a majority is required consists merely of those who exercise the right to vote on the annexation proposal in question at the election in which the annexation proposal in question is offered for a vote. The number of votes cast at the ballot box itself is the basis for determining a majority, as opposed to the number of those possessing the qualifications to vote or those registered to vote in the annexing county or area to be annexed but who do not actually vote.
In previous cases it is presumed that, "All qualified voters who absent themselves from an election duly called are presumed to assent to the expressed will of the majority of those voting, unless the law providing for the election otherwise declares. This decision was made in the Glover v. Hot Springs Kennel Club, Inc. Therefore, Grand County was unable to stand on their insistence that the majority of registered voters must approve the annexation.
Green River City Mayor Glen Johnson said, "I feel great about this, it's been a lot of hard work and it has paid off. The city and the county feel it is the right way to go. It started around 1989, the first move to annex Green River into Emery County; but the governor vetoed the whole thing. Rep. Brad Johnson helped to get House Bill 49 passed and a lot of people did a lot of work on that legislation. All of the city council became involved and the mayor at the time, Judy Scott.
"Grand County has 14 days to contest the ruling, but I don't think they will because all five Supreme Court Judges ruled in our favor. The supreme court will now send it back to Judge Lyle Anderson and instruct him on the things he ruled against. He must change his ruling and say yes, it was a true vote with a majority and Lieutenant Governor Olene Walker must certify the vote. It will take effect on Jan. 1, 2003 and go into law. The governor will write a statement and declare that portion of Grand County will become Emery County. After that we will go to work to transfer the property.. The long term indebtedness will have to be adjusted. The transfer will take a lot of work by a lot of people. It will be a big hard job.
"Green River City took the lead and I have been so pleased that so many people got involved with this. I met with all the cities in the county and the final vote was 200 against and 4,000 voters for the annexation. We are pleased with all the support. There were so many of our Green River people who went door to door and were excited about it. This will also help the school district. It is a big step and it should have been done a long time ago. The county commission has been helpful and this was truly a community project. We hope the authorities of Emery County will help us to have the same benefits as the rest of the communities in the county.
"This was good politics and it was a good cause that we believed in and we won. We will still be neighbors with Grand County and we want to be good neighbors. We want to get along and we don't want any hurt feelings; we just want to be good neighbors," said Mayor Johnson.