Blanding Council concerned about commission districts

by Eric Niven
The ramifications of the lawsuit between San Juan County and the Navajo Nation was just one of the many topics discussed at the Blanding City Council meeting held March 29.
City Councilman Joe B. Lyman discussed a solicitation of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC) at a recent meeting of the San Juan County Commission meeting. Several people placed pressure on the Commission to settle a Voting Rights lawsuit between the tribe and the county, even though the lawsuit is still working through the federal court system.
Councilman Lyman expressed concerns similar to those voiced by County Commissioner Phil Lyman at the time that attempts by the NNHRC to prompt a settlement while the legal issues still haven’t been resolved is inappropriate.
Councilman Lyman said, “They came to the commission meeting with threats and intimidation and with ultimatums that are beyond ridiculous.”
The demand by the tribal group is that the county accept a map created by the Navajo Nation that redraws Commission districts.
Councilman Lyman voiced concerns that the map is not in the best interest of Blanding City as it would essentially divide the city into three separate voting districts.
Lyman voiced the opinion that the Council is elected to represent all of the residents of Blanding while the tribe is focusing on only one group.
“We would be negligent in our responsibility if we didn’t take the strongest possible position,” Lyman said regarding representing all the citizens of Blanding .
Regarding the tribe’s proposal, Councilman Robert Ogle said, “What we have here is the attempt to create a voting block for the purpose of taking power.”
Lyman said that Blanding City needs to state the case legally in the form of a letter to be drafted. It will be presented at the next Council meeting.
In other matters at the March 29 meeting, City Engineer Terry Ekker related the status of several projects.
Ekker said that construction on the 2015 Streets Project has begun again. Due to the compressed construction schedule, construction will be very aggressive and will include major utility and paving operations at the same time in locations all over Blanding City. The anticipated completion is the end of May.
The City of Blanding is seeking funding for the proposed East Side Sewer Project.  The significant project would increase the efficiency of the sewer system.
Jeremy Redd said the city should be able to secure a favorable funding package for the project, adding, “The sewer system is mature, with little debt, so rates are relatively low.”
A resolution was passed to amend the policy regarding culinary water connections outside of city limits. According to Councilman Lyman, the change “allows for a thoughtful annexation process for residents desiring annexation to now receive culinary water after requesting annexation.”
Residents within a proposed annexation zone either need to request annexation or sign a petition for annexation without objection if the area is contiguous to city limits.
The Council adopted an amendment to the Blanding City Utility Employee Policy to state, “City-owned vehicles may only be driven by employee of the City.”
Dogs then became the next major focus when City Manager Jeremy Redd stated that Trent Holiday, the Blanding City Animal Control Officer for the past five years, is stepping down. Options for his replacement were discussed.
One proposal is to work with San Juan County to hire an animal control officer to patrol the entire county. The officer would spend allotments of time in various areas.
Councilwoman Kathryn Perkins expressed concern if Blanding would get fair coverage for its investment. It was estimated that creating the shared position could cost the city about $40,000 per year.
Councilman Taylor Harrison expressed concern that this is a volatile issue and must be handled as soon as possible.
Mayor Calvin Balch said it is a recurring issue and if the Council is committed to resolving the issue, it needs to designate money and resources.
One challenge is the number of dogs that are in the Blanding area but are outside of city limits. A shared position with San Juan County would alleviate jurisdiction problems in such cases.
City Manger Jeremy Redd reported on the cost of natural gas and an impending need for the city to purchase a price lock on natural gas. The current price lock will expire in a few months.
Redd said that Blanding previously locked at a good rate, and he is confident that natural gas prices will drop more when a new contract is signed.
“We have the ability to be a little more nimble and respond to price changes,” said Redd.
Redd said he was being conservative but hopes that the monthly natural gas fee for a regular customer will drop by about $20 per month. If that happens, Redd said the rate paid by Blanding customers will be lower than for Questar customers in other areas of the state.
Debt on the city natural gas system will be paid in 2020.
It was reported that after a meeting of the water board, there are no water shares yet in Blanding.  They will look again as the run-off progresses.
The City of Blanding has plenty of water in city reservoirs and may have up to 500 acre feet of water to sell. In addition, Joe Lyman said the offer to buy water is always on the table.
Both Recapture Reservoir and the newly expanded Dry Wash Reservoir are filling up to the conservation pool and beyond.
KD Perkins discussed a Utah Travel Council promotional effort that includes road trips in the state.  The suggested southeast Utah road trip begins in Moab and heads south through the area, including things to do in Bluff, Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley and more.  It does not include anything to do in Blanding.  
Perkins stated, at the least, the road tour should include Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum.

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