2020 county budget includes tax increase
San Juan County Commissioners approved a 2020 budget at the last Commission meeting of the year on December 17.
The 2020 budget accounts for a tax increase in three separate funds controlled by the county. An actual tax increase will not be addressed until June. The tax increase would be due from property owners in November, 2020 and will be addressed when the 2020 property values are released in June, 2020.
The budgeted increases are for the county general fund, public health and library funds.
Commissioners said that the budget is lean. There will be no cost of living increase for county employees or new positions created in county government.
Commissioners made more than $6 million in adjustments to the existing 2019 budgets in order to close out the year.
Major adjustments that were made to the other accounts included $2 million to the building fund to account for the new road building, $1,670,212 in the B Road fund, and $1,063.812 for the general fund.
Other adjustments were made to the public health fund, EMS fund, road capital fund, landfill fund, library fund, and tort liability fund.
While the majority of the adjustments were necessary because of cost overruns, there were also adjustments because of increased revenue.
The budget estimated that the county would received $120,000 in revenue from the county trust funds. The actual revenue was approximately 50 percent higher, or $180,000.
In other matters at the December 17 meeting, Commissioners referred a proposed Interlocal Agreement between San Juan County and Bluff back to administration after concerns were expressed about property rights.
The new document would have superseded an agreement that was signed one year ago.
The interlocal agreement outlines interaction between the two entities regarding law enforcement, road maintenance, weed control, airport, fire, emergency response, land use, and recreation.
San Juan County will continue to match the town’s one percent transient room tax.
Commissioner Bruce Adams asked how the entities will deal with issues related to zoning changes.
Adams said that property owners bought land in Bluff before the town was created and were signaled by the county that it was commercial property.
Subsequent actions by the Town of Bluff changed some of those designations. A property owner has expressed frustration with the appeals process regarding the changed zoning boundaries.
“We have been good to work with Bluff on things they would like us to do,” said Adams. “I was wondering if that would go in the other direction.”
County Administrator Mack McDonald said, “I hope that Bluff would be willing to work with us on that.”
Bluff Mayor Ann Leppanen stated that with a new interlocal agreement in place, Bluff hopes to hire David Everitt to serve as an appeals officer. Everitt was the interim administrator for the county for six months in 2019.
Leppanen said that the interlocal agreement needed to be changed, in part, because of a building permit in Bluff that was approved by San Juan County without Bluff Town knowledge.
Amer Tumeh, who owns a 21-acre block of commercial property on the western edge of town that was rezoned residential, received the building permit for a commercial project.
During public comment, Tumeh addressed the issue. Tumeh is also the owner of Desert Rose Resort and Dukes Restaurant. His businesses are the largest collector of sales tax and transient room tax in Bluff.
Tumeh expressed his frustration and said he felt he had been singled out by the Bluff Town Council. “Bluff government has run amok and needs to be reeled in,” said Tumeh.
Also during public comment, Jim Sayers, of the Bluff Town Board, expressed support for the Interlocal Agreement. He said that an appeals officer will be hired in the near future and will allow for dispute resolution.
Commissioner Willie Grayeyes referred the matter back to the entities, stating, “You need to sit down face to face and come to some consensus please.”
Planning Director Walter Bird presented an updated site plan for the proposed Love’s Truck Stop near the county line in Spanish Valley (see accompanying artwork).
Loves plans to develop a 15-acre property along Highway 191 on property purchased from the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
After the site plan was introduced, County Administrator Mack McDonald told Commissioners, “This is not for your approval, but just so you know that Love’s is still out there working on things and this is the direction that they are heading.”
McDonald added, “They have heard some of the concerns that are out there and tried to mitigate them as much as possible.”
A progress report on the Monticello Wind Project was presented by local landowner Mike Roring.
Tony Hall of Ellis-Hall Consultants, is developing the wind farm project in the Tarb area, approximately five miles northeast of Monticello. Roring is a landowner involved in the project.
Roring reports that the project is still moving ahead, with a recently completed wildlife study. Roring said that the windmill design is complete, funding resources are secured, and power purchase agreements are in place.
The project is waiting for the issuance of a final permit for a 120-megawatt project. The Latigo Wind Farm, which is operational on the northern edge of Monticello, is a 60-megawatt project.
San Juan County issued a conditional use permit for the project several years ago
Roring said that Tony Hall would like to make the project as large as 1,200 megawatts that would also include solar power.
Commissioners approved a letter of support for the Utah-Colorado Coal Communities Innovation Project. The Economic Development Administration was asked by several rural counties to develop a strategy for economic development because of the loss of coal jobs.
Commissioners went into executive session for approximately 30 minutes. They did not mention why they went into executive session.
Commissioners approved a Cooperative Law Enforcement Agreement between the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Forest Service.
The agreement reimburses the county $5,000 for hours and equipment for law enforcement efforts on the forest.
Toni Turk and Robert McPherson discussed the constitution and ordinances for the San Juan County Historical Preservation Committee. They are working on a number of projects, including a project to restore the Oljato Trading Post and help it become an incubator for economic development in the area.
During public comment, Steve Pehrson addressed commissioners with ongoing concerns about roads on the San Juan County portion of the Navajo reservation. Concerned because moisture is currently on the roads, which creates favorable circumstances for road maintenance.
Pehrson is also concerned about a lack of addresses for homes on the reservation.
“You should take care of the southern end of the county before you do anything else,” said Pehrson.
Commissioner Maryboy said that progress is being made but an agreement between the Navajo Nation and San Juan County has not been finalized.