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In Utah suburb, an election over the essence of government

MILLCREEK, Utah — The campaign has been brutal. Names have been called, insults hurled, yard signs stolen. In these final days, volunteers are out knocking on doors, and undecided voters are awash in leaflets warning about big government and higher taxes, or the loss of crucial government services.

Romney vs. Obama? Hardly. Here in the mini-malls and rolling cul-de-sacs south of Salt Lake City, the election dividing friends and neighbors is one to decide whether the suburb of Millcreek should abandon its loosely organized ways and knit itself into a bona fide city.

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It is a campaign rife with many of the same fundamental issues roiling the presidential campaign: taxes, spending and the right size and role of government in people’s lives.

To supporters, a city would cobble together a few suburban neighborhoods into a more perfect union. After years of living at the whims of county codes and tax rates, residents of Millcreek said they would, for the first time, be able to keep their tax dollars inside their own borders and write their own future.

‘‘We don’t have any say,’’ said Gloria Kuhn, who supports the measure that would make Millcreek a city. “It’s not the way our country was designed. It’s taxation without representation.’’

Opponents say the status quo works fine. Forming a city would heap municipal rules and expenses atop existing layers of county, state, and federal bureaucracy. They say a new city would need money for lawyers, accountants, city buildings, and other services now provided by the county, and ultimately be forced to raise taxes.

They say there is too much uncertainty: Would a new city create its own police force? Would it fight its own fires? If not, if it continued relying on the county for those things, why bother?

‘’Why are we trying to force more government?’’ said Roger Dudley, a leading member of the opposition group.

At its core, the election here next Tuesday is a fight about what happens as America’s suburbs grow up.

If the ballot measure passes on Election Day, Millcreek would become Utah’s 10th-largest city by population; it has 63,500 residents across 41 square miles.

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