Silver Queen Mine Miniature Golf
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Local farmers’ smiles grow congruant with their seedlings, coaxed from the snow-drenched soil.  Eric Halls photo
Local farmers’ smiles grow congruant with their seedlings, coaxed from the snow-drenched soil. Eric Halls photo
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Commission approves five resolutions, delays suit
Apr 23, 2019 | 503 views | 0 0 comments | 76 76 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Bill Boyle During more than four hours of often contentious meetings on April 16, the San Juan County Commission passed five resolutions. Commissioners unanimously approved two resolutions regarding employment opportunities in northern Arizona. The Kayenta Black Mesa Mine and the Navajo Generating Station may close, impacting approximately 800 jobs, including many San Juan County residents. The resolutions support employment opportunities at the sites and will be sent to Navajo Nation agencies. Commissioner Willie Grayeyes moved to suspend consideration of a resolution to file a lawsuit against County Attorney Kendall Laws “until next month’s meeting.” The motion passed 2-0, with Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy abstaining. The resolution would have authorized the Commission to hire outside legal counsel. Laws told the Commissioners on April 2 that he had sought the opinion of the office of the Utah Attorney General before implementing a resolution to withdraw San Juan County from a legal relationship with the Mountain States Legal Foundation. Laws said he would follow the recommendation of the Attorney General’s office. Commissioner Bruce Adams said, “Let’s ask the AG office to review the resolution and give a recommendation.” Adams added, “I don’t know if one elected official can sue another elected official.” Commissioner Maryboy said, “I was hoping that we would pass it today. Certainly we’ll try to reach those in the appropriate areas, but I still do feel that we have been shortchanged and have lost a lot of money.” Before Commissioners addressed resolutions regarding Bears Ears, Commissioner Adams called for a referendum to ask voter opinion on the divisive issue. “The Bears Ears issue is very important to the citizens of San Juan County,” said Adams. “I am uncomfortable with the three of us trying to make decisions on Bears Ears. We ought to get a vote of the people. “I will abide by it. I will not object to the voice of the people.” Commissioner Maryboy referenced an issue several years ago when he asked for a referendum on the Utah Navajo Trust Fund and was told that it costs too much. Adams suggested that if the referendum happened during a general election, “it is not a great expense to add another line to an existing ballot.” Commissioner Grayeyes said there were two options: first, a special election which would have costs, and second, wait until the next regular election. Adams sought a vote on the idea, stating that he would like to consider it before the Commission voted on Bears Ears issues. Since it was not a part of the agenda, it could not be considered as an action item. The Commission went ahead and passed three additional resolutions: A resolution to ask the state auditor to review legal expenses since 2009 passed 2-0, with Adams abstaining; A resolution to withdraw county participation from the Mountain State Legal Foundation passed 2-1 with Adams opposing; A resolution opposing the State of Utah position on Forest Service Roadless Areas passed 2-1 with Adams opposing. A motion supporting a bill before Congress involving the Antiquities Act died for lack of a second. Commissioner Willie Grayeyes asked for information about implementation of the previous resolutions that were passed by the Commission, stating, “I have no idea of the status of the prior resolutions.” Commissioner Adams introduced a resolution that would request a change in how oil and gas royalties are distributed from properties in San Juan County on the Navajo Nation. Currently, 37.5 percent of the royalties are distributed to the Utah Navajo Trust Fund by the State of Utah. The remaining 62.5 percent are sent to the Navajo Nation in Window Rock. Adams suggested the funds could be distributed in a manner similar to the State Community Impact Board, which distributes oil and gas royalties to communities and counties in Utah. Commissioner Maryboy introduced a resolution that would hold Commission meetings outside of the county seat in Monticello on an occasional basis. Four meetings are initially proposed, during the first week of June, August, October and November. A Navajo translator would be provided for meetings in the southern part of the county. A similar resolution was considered but not passed after County Attorney Kendall Laws said state law requires commission meetings to be held at the county seat. Commissioner Grayeyes said, “If something needs to be decided by a judge, so be it.” An additional resolution was proposed that would restrict a county official or employee from representing a policy unless it had been approved by the Commission. Commissioner Adams said, “We don’t want to muzzle people from doing their job. Will this be handcuffing ourselves from being able to do our jobs?” Commissioner Maryboy said, “We have time to work on this,” and suggested that his concerns were directed in part at Commissioner Adams, who had approached the Utah State Legislature in January with a request to use state funds to help pay for county legal expenses. “You were saying ‘We, we’ in the request and I didn’t know anything about that,” said Maryboy. An additional resolution was introduced that, if approved, would create a six-month moratorium on commercial development along Highway 191 in Spanish Valley. A Love’s Truck Stop is being considered on property managed by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). A group of people have signaled concern about the project. The lengthy text of the resolution included several statements that irked Commissioner Adams. “I am a little offended by the statement that San Juan County has completely ignored Spanish Valley,” said Adams. “We have spent two years and found $13 million for a new water and sewer system that just about everyone in the area is joining. I think we have been very involved and very concerned.” In county business matters at the meeting, Tammy Gallegos presented year one of a four-year plan for the aging programs run by San Juan County. She will seek a signature from the Commission as an action item in May. Monte Perkins, the noxious weed supervisor for the county, discussed the weed program. The $100,000 budget for the program included $83,000 in grants, including $20,000 for the spray days grant in area communities, $50,000 for work along the San Juan River, and $13,000 from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Perkins anticipates that the BLM grant will total $30,000 next year. Perkins would like to purchase Kubota equipment for areas where the spray trucks cannot go. The equipment will cost approximately $20,000. Road Foreman Ben Musselman discussed the biannual bids for batteries, synthetic oils and filters. Low bid for batteries and filters is Kenworth Sales, while JC Hunt provided the low bid for synthetic oils. Musselman said a road collapsed in the Cottonwood Wash area, and the county will hold a public hearing to abandon that section of the road. The county is working with the BLM and hoping for a speedy resolution to the issue. Commissioners approved phase 23 of the Flat Iron Mesa subdivision. A three-year jail maintenance contract for the jail control system was approved at a cost of $11,900 per year. Asa Bradford was approved for a corrections officer position and Lucia Regalado and Emma Squires were approved for dispatch positions. Commissioners also approved out-of-state travel for the health department. Jerry McNeely discussed issues in northern San Juan County and said they expect 100,000 people in the area for the Jeep Safari. “You have to see it to believe it,” said McNeely. “Moab is nothing but jeeps and dust right now.”
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San Juan County auditor says the county is “in good financial shape”
Apr 23, 2019 | 236 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Bill Boyle “Overall, I would say the county is in good financial shape,” said San Juan County Auditor John Fellmeth in a report to County Commissioners on April 16. “So far, we have not had any major or unexpected conditions that have impacted our financial situation.” Fellmeth went through more than 60 pages of financial documents with the Commissioners. “At this point in the year, revenues are in line with budget projections, and expenditures are the same thing,” he said. “As the year moves on, we will have more information.” Commissioners have expressed concern about financial matters. In an April 2 Commission meeting, Commissioner Willie Grayeyes asked for a report. “How far down are we,” said Grayeyes on April 2. “Six feet? No one wants to talk about it, but everything we do gets back to it. The real question is, are we broke? We need to take a closer, refined look at the budget.” The financial documents include detailed information on balance sheets, budget reports, and expense and revenue reports. The information is generated each month and compares the month to previous years and to the budget. Fellmeth said the reports are sent to the Commissioners each month. In addition to the reports, Fellmeth discussed a number of overall trends using a graph. The overall trend shows total cash and investments are roughly steady in recent years. “Total cash and investments in March are $35.37 million,” said Fellmeth. “This is up $569,731 from February and up $687,969 from last year at this time.” Fellmeth described the total cash and investments as “money in the bank.” The General Fund account is on a downward trend. Fellmeth showed that the fund was approximately $7 million five years ago and was under $2 million last month. “That is a $5 million decline over the past five years,” said Fellmeth. Fellmeth explained that legal expenses were higher than the budget anticipated in recent years. That may explain the major portion of the fund decline. It is expected that Federal Judge Robert Shelby will rule soon on legal fees for the voting rights lawsuit. Attorney Steve Boos, who led the legal team that sued the county, has submitted up to $3 million in legal fees. If the county is required to pay the fees, the General Fund does not currently carry that amount. It has been suggested that the funds may need to come from the Tax Stability trust fund, which was created by Commissioners as a “rainy day” fund back in the 1980s. The Tax Stability fund currently has a balance of more than $7.5 million. In addition to the General Fund, Fellmeth also reported that the health fund and the library fund have also declined in recent years. A common theme of the declining funds, according to Fellmeth, is that they are property tax supported funds. Fellmeth told Commissioners, “You do have some options” with these funds, but added that when addressing property tax supported funds, “you also face some constraints.” Overall, some of the county funds have remained steady and others have grown. There are a variety of funds, including road funds, capital funds, health, ambulance, library, landfill, and tort liability. Fellmeth explained the county is constrained by law in the type of investments that can be made. “There are two major areas of investment: the Public Treasurers Investment Fund (PTIF) and Zions Bank Wealth Management Fund,” said Fellmeth. “The county has funds in both.”
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San Juan teachers among the state’s top earners
Apr 23, 2019 | 284 views | 0 0 comments | 76 76 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Alene Laney San Juan School District teachers are some of the top earning teachers in the state. Surprised? That’s according to a report from the Utah Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization. The report, Apples to Apples: How Teacher Pay in Utah Stacks Up to the Competition, compares Utah teacher pay to that across the nation, with particular focus on how Utah teacher salaries compare with other teacher salaries in the Mountain States. The report also breaks out teacher pay by school district. San Juan School District ranks fifth for highest base salary for school districts in the state of Utah, following Park City, Salt Lake City, Kane County, and Murray School Districts. Overall average salaries are also in the top ten for school districts across the state. “We need to be near the top to recruit and retain teachers,” said San Juan School Superintendent Ron Nielsen. “We need to be above average to stay competitive. “There are a number of variables that make it difficult to attract teachers here: the remoteness of the area, the limited shopping. There needs to be financial compensation to make up for it.” The San Juan School District has also made waves for their Quality Teacher Incentive Program (QTIP). The program pays an exceptionally high wage – reportedly as high as $80,000 per year – for approximately one dozen quality lead teachers to work in the schools that need it the most. In addition, the school district has started utilizing signing and retention bonuses for these schools as well. Neilson said it makes a tremendous difference in the classroom. “We’ve seen dramatic results,” said Nielson. “These teachers pay a dividend to the school in many ways. They add to discussions, they help solve problems, they mentor other teachers. “They bring experience and leadership to the school. They help with strategic planning and vision. To keep them is a high priority.” Other data from the report shows Utah lagging behind the national average salary by more than $12,000. The Utah average teacher salary is $47,604, while national salaries average $60,483. Though that number is brought up by higher salaries in California and New York, Utah still falls short when compared against similar Mountain States. The average salary for Mountain States is $52,389, a ten percent difference. Notably, average Utah salaries are lower than those in Arizona, where teacher strikes last year shut down schools for a week before the Arizona legislature passed a bill that would increase teacher salaries by 20 percent over a number of years. One key finding shows that pay varies widely from district to district. There can be as much as a 40 percent difference for teachers with similar levels of education and experience employed by different school districts. Another interesting finding is that teachers in 2016 are older and have higher rates of master’s and doctorate degrees than in 2007. In theory, this should equate to more compensation, but it has not. Comparing teachers with other professionals, Utah teachers earn 73 percent of what similarly credentialed, private sector workers do. This wage gap is one of the reasons teachers leave education. The report found, on average, private sector jobs have salary increases of eight percent per year, whereas teaching salaries are increased, on average, by five percent per year. Over the life of a career, it can add up to a substantial difference. Increasing teacher pay works, according to the report, which concludes, “Ensuring that there are highly effective teachers in the classroom is critical to improving educational outcomes for children. “And an important component of both recruiting and retaining effective teachers is to offer an appropriate level of compensation.” The Utah legislature and individual school districts are key players in teacher salary increases. Recently, the largest school districts in Salt Lake County increased starting teacher pay above $40,000 to attract top talent.
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