Commissioners hear report on tourism promotion

by Eric Niven
The San Juan County Commission meeting on April 5 covered a lot of ground, including tourism development, fixing roads, dog control, and a resolution to approve $1.5 million in lease revenue bonds for a health services facility in Blanding.
In the work session portion of the meeting, San Juan Country Marketing Director Charlie Delorme presented an overview of the tourism development effort and a basic accounting of where his budget is spent.
The presentation focused upon efforts to increase tourism to San Juan County, both nationally and internationally.
DeLorme presented statistics from the tourism industry, particularly, and the State of Utah.
Commissioner Rebecca Benally said she believes more in-depth data is needed, especially from local organizations.
DeLorme outlined the importance of reaching out to international travel agencies, tour operators and product managers. “It is all about developing and maintaining those relationships,” DeLorme said. “These individuals have short memory spans, and if we don’t visit them at least once a year, they will send travelers elsewhere.”
DeLorme said this potential visitation to San Juan County justifies sending county representatives to national and international tourism venues. The cost of the annual effort is more than $75,000.
Commissioner Benally said other counties only attend these conventions every other year.
“I also question promoting and funding the Dark Sky activities,” said Benally. “We are promoting Dark Sky activities in Bluff, while just across the river there are those who still do not even have electricity. It seems a contradiction.”
Benally also recognized (and DeLorme confirmed) that the county travel board has no Native American board members.
Benally went on to emphasize that economic growth should include more than just tourism. “The unemployment rate in San Juan County is flat lined. I do not see that efforts to promote tourism has created any jobs or new businesses,” she said.
She suggested that DeLorme’s office should expand their efforts to include events like Moab’s Jeep Safari and that Native American participation is vital.
Commissioner Benally concluded with the request that there be a five-year economic development plan presented so the commissioners could properly evaluate the effectiveness of the tourism development and economic development efforts.
DeLorme will return in a future meeting to discuss the economic development efforts that are also coordinated through his office.
During the road portion of the April 5 Commission meeting, officials discussed whether it would be more efficient to lease or to purchase paving equipment for the San Juan County Road Department.
“There is much to do, and if we fix only one road, it will make those residents happy but everyone else mad,” said Commissioner Phil Lyman. “If we are going to do this, we have to do it big.”
A cost analysis will be conducted before proceeding further.
San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldridge discussed the growing stray dog problem in the county.
While there is a dog ordinance and state laws are in place, Eldredge said there are problems with logistical enforcement.
“We have a dog problem, and this is a very sensitive issue,” said Eldridge. “We are not being proactive. This is a serious issue, and I don’t want it to become a public relations nightmare.”
“We live in a rural county with a lot of dogs that often run wild,” said Commissioner Lyman, who added, “A county is different than a municipality. I am wondering whether at the county level we can take this problem and control it. We might be embarking on a situation that has no solution.”
After he visited with Blanding and Monticello cities, Sheriff Eldridge proposed a solution to hire a non-certified full time person and to cooporate with Moab city geographically.
“This is a safety issue and a liability issue,” said Commissioner Benally. “We have to address this issue before we eventually get sued.”
Commissioners decided that they need additional research into the issue.
“We will do whatever we need to do,” said Commissioner Lyman.
Nick Sanderg reported on litigation regarding the Gunnison sage grouse filed by Utah and Colorado. The litigation is currently on hold until a legal interpretation is provided by an Arizona court.
San Juan County has also petitioned to extend the comment requirement for 120 days to the BLM’s planning extension regulations proposal. Of note, the new regulations require more coordination between the federal government and local governments.
Crystal Holt, of Human Resources, received permission to hire a part time custodian for the Blanding Library.
A corridor study for Highway 191 is being created to ensure cooperation between the various governing bodies along 191 for future corridor access.
Highway 191 creates the transportation backbone of San Juan County, entering the county in Spanish Valley and traveling to the Arizona border near Mexican Water.
The cooperative agreement ensures monitoring, maintenance and safety along the corridor. It will also allow for better communication for expansion along the corridor.
Walter Bird requested approval on corrections to the county subdivision ordinance. Approval was granted with a yearly review process. The Commissioners requested more education on these matters.
A request was made by San Juan County Landfill Manager Randy Rarick to purchase two automatic tarping systems to prevent rubbish from escaping from transport dumpsters. They will be purchased from an account already in place from an insurance settlement.
Economic Development employee Pam Hanson reports that the county received two grants to update the economic development website. A letter of support was requested and approved to secure the grants.
An additional grant will fund education and professional training classes attended by Hanson.
Commissioner Benally asked how the training would benefit San Juan County economic development and if the training is passed on to others.
Benally suggested that future approval for this type of professional training would require information about how the training is being implemented into the economic development effort.
Commissioner Lyman emphasized the need for the department to develop an economic master plan.
County Clerk John David Nielson requested approval to proceed with a delinquent tax property sale. Commissioners said to proceed but only after providing complete due diligence to contact the delinquent land holders prior to the sale.
The Commissioners also approved a resolution authorizing the issuance and sale of $1.5 million in revenue bonds for the proposed new San Juan County public health, mental health, and health services facility in Blanding.
The resolution also calls for a public hearing on the project in May.

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