Concerns about Bluff incorporation
by Bill Boyle
Incorporation is on the ballot in Bluff for the November 7 general election. If a majority of Bluff area voters favor incorporation, San Juan County’s third municipality will be created.
A group of volunteers have been working on incorporation matters for several months. A feasibility study indicates that the new town could offer the same level of service that is currently offered in the community.
There are a number of Bluff area residents who are opposed to the proposal, but they are not as organized as the supporters.
The opposition seems to focus on four issues: financial feasibility, concerns about control, if there are enough people to make it work, and concerns about the new city boundaries.
Financial concerns include questions about the feasibility study. In an October 18 story in the San Juan Record, San Juan County Administrator Kelly Pehrson asked if all of the costs of running a municipality were considered in the feasibility study.
Bonneville Research, which provided the feasibility analysis, responded with a statement that supports their previous conclusion that incorporation could provide the same level of service the community currently receives without raising property taxes. (See the story on page 1).
Despite the assurance, concerns continue that the costs of roads, administration, law enforcement, water and sewer, zoning regulations and more may be higher than is listed in the feasibility study budgets.
In a public meeting in early October, it was announced that the budgets are based partially on an assumption that much of the labor for the community will be on a volunteer or part time basis.
In order to expand the range of services that are currently offered in the community, it will require an increase in expenditures.
Revenue growth can be accomplished through tax increases, fees increases, grants or other possible sources.
A number of Bluff area residents are concerned about the controls that could be implemented if the area is incorporated.
“This committee simply wants control of everything,” said one Bluff resident, who wishes to remain anonymous.
With a population of 265 people, some Bluff residents question if the town can pull off the work required to incorporate.
Another Bluff resident said, “We can’t get five people to run the service district, how are they going to find enough people to get this done?”
The boundaries are the fourth concern about incorporation that is raised most often.
The boundaries of the proposed community extend along the north shore of the San Juan River roughly from St Christopher’s Mission all the way to Comb Ridge.
It also includes portions of the Bluff bench, and Butler, Cottonwood, Calf, and Cow canyons.
The airport and Sand Island would also be included, as would Camp Sticky-ta-tudy (owned by the Hole in the Rock Foundation) and the SITLA property on Comb Ridge that was recently purchased by Lyman Family Farms.
At 38.5 square miles, the new community would dwarf the size of other communities in the county. In contrast, Monticello is 4.5 square miles and Blanding is 11 square miles.
The newly incorporated area will include 16.5 square miles of public (BLM) land or SITLA properties.
The community will assume responsibility for roads, law enforcement and services within that area.
“It will cost a fortune to administer that much land and there is no chance of growth in many of these areas,” said a Bluff resident.
Ballots have been mailed and polls will be open until the general election on November 7.