Commissioner Rebecca Benally reported at the Febuary 16 meeting of the San Juan County Commission that most of the Navajo Chapters in the county favor polling places and voter booths on election day, rather than mail-in ballots.
The county had moved to exclusive mail-in ballots in recent elections, with the stated goal of increasing voter participation. However, concerns had been expressed that the move would actually decrease voter participation because of the difficulties related to getting ballots to all eligible voters.
Benally said elections are an item on an upcoming Utah Navajo Commission (UNC) agenda. A UNC decision represents all seven chapters because the chapter presidents each have a vote on the commission.
Bruce Adams said Mark Thomas, the State Director of Elections, said the state recommendation is that the county go away from the mail-in ballot. Adams added that the decision is up to the commissioners. County Clerk John David Nielson said he had not received any written recommendations.
In other business at the February 16 meeting, Lee Bennett, chairman of the San Juan County Library Board, requested a raise for library director Patricia Smith. The request was to raise the pay from $19 to $24.91 per hour.
When Smith was hired as the library director, Commissioners required that she successfully complete a number of courses to meet the requirements of the job.
Smith has completed all requirements made at time of hire. Bennett said that it was her understanding that a raise was promised when the course work was completed.
Smith reports that in addition to completing the courses, she has made many improvements at the county libraries over the past two years. Smith provided a comparison with similar positions in other rural counties, many of which have only one library to oversee.
Commissioner Bruce Adams said Smith’s pay has increased nearly $5 per hour over the past two years when you combine the raise for the change in job description with recent cost of living adjustments.
Adams said if the new request was approved, her raises would be nearly $10 per hour in two years.
To keep consistent with a recent raise for health district nurses, commissioners approved a $1.25 per hour raise, which is rounded up to the next step and grade on the county pay scale. There was no negotiation on the issue.
Commissioners unanimously approved the raise for the library and the public health department.
County Landfill Manager Randy Rarick located a truck to replace a vehicle which was wrecked. The advertised price of the truck was $25,000 but Rarick negotiated it down to $20,000. He had actually offered $17,000 and accepted their counter offer.
The truck is located in California. The price is well under the amount received from the insurance settlement. The purchase was approved unanimously. It will be picked up and, with a few minor adjustments, will be ready for use in the next few weeks.
Officer Colby Turk has replaced Jason Torgerson on the San Juan County Drug Task Force. The opening was created when Torgerson was named Blanding Chief of Police and left the San Juan County Sheriffs Office.
Commissioners approved a new vehicle lease agreement for the position. Funding for the vehicle comes from a state grant, and there is no use of county money.
When asked if this is a step up, Turk said he presently drives a Dodge Ram and now will be driving a Dodge Durango, which is a smaller vehicle.
In the commission work meeting, Jason Johnson of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, reported on the impact of new fire legislation on the county.
The main change in the new fire legislation is that the state will no longer have an insurance fund to pay the cost to fight wildfires. Previously, the counties were responsible for 50 percent of the warden salary and suppression of fires.
The state acted as an insurer to cover costs that exceeded the county budget. The county had a participation agreement with the state and would send a check to the state for their participation match.
Now, the county assumes a clarified role to focus on mediating fire risks in the county. Johnson said there are 4,319 acres of high-risk private land in San Juan County. One high-risk area is the Monticello watershed.
Commissioner Adams responded that the watershed has been a high-risk area for several years, and since it is on Forest Service land, he said it would be a good idea for the commission to contact the Forest Service to express concern and offer support to address the concerns.
Commissioner Phil Lyman said that the County needs to at least voice their concerns, whether or not it causes changes in conditions. Otherwise, said Lyman, the county appears to be disengaged.
The rights and responsibilities of trappers were the main topic of a discussion about trapping in the Pack Creek area. A guidebook for trappers is published by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and includes guidelines and recommendations for trapping. It recommends to avoid traps near trails used by animals or people.
Pack Creek residents and visitors have expressed concern that traps in the area are too close to the trail. One resident is concerned that her dog will be injured by a trap.
Several DWR officers at the meeting said they have never seen a domestic animal hurt by a trap. They said the effectiveness of the trap on a wild animal is that the animal fights the trap. The traps are easily released if you know how to do it.
DWR officer Dennis Shumway caught his hand in a trp that he brought to the meeting to show how easily he could release it. Trappers have to check their traps every 48 hours. Each trap has an identifying number and trappers can be contacted by DWR if there is an issue.
While most items in the guidebook are not law, there are several laws to protect the trapper. One law states it is unlawful for anyone other than the trapper to take his trap.
Local resident Bob Turri had a little piece of wisdom to share with all who like to be in the great outdoors. Turri said, “We can’t all expect our use of the land to be exclusive. The amount of land is fixed and as populations grow, we need to learn to share and work together.”