Commission hears property value concerns and approves a grant for Bluff Food Pantry

by David Boyle
News Director
The San Juan County Commission heard concerns from commercial property owners in Bluff, discussed equalization, and heard audit results at their latest meeting.
Commercial property owners in Bluff voiced concerns about increases in their valuations at the August 16 meeting of the San Juan County Commission.
Cow Canyon Trading Post owner Lieza Doran shared her concern after receiving her 2022 notice of property valuation and the increase in her property values. 
“This is a seasonal business in Bluff and many of us struggle. Furthermore, nothing has been taken into account of the covid years we have endured and we are just starting to come out in recovery. It adds more, it’s like a slap in the face to me.”
Fellow Bluff commercial property owner Nancy Sumner said the town has been struggling. 
“This is the first year we’ve had any Europeans come in at all and that’s still minimal but we still haven’t had anything like that. So it’s really a shock to find out that these property taxes have climbed up so much on commercial in one year.”
Owner of Desert Rose in Bluff Amer Tumeh argued that the appraisal of his property should not be based on the replacement value of his building and materials but rather based on income which Tumeh says has dropped by 85-percent.
In response to the issues raised in public comment County Commissioner Bruce Adams shared with property owners the process to challenge their assessments.
Challenges can be made to a board of equalization’s hearing. Property owners can reach out to the county clerk’s office to schedule a hearing on August 29th or 30th.
Adams shared that it’s best that property owners come to a meeting with clear evidence as to why they think their property has been valued too high.
“You bring that to the board of equalization, and I don’t know how else to say it but you plead your case to the hearing officer. I’m not sure that the (county) commissioners themselves can intercede in this process but the best chance you have to get your property’s values lowered is with the hearing officer on the 29th and 30th.”
San Juan County Administrator Mack McDonald added that the only way the county can adjust valuations is if there is an error.
Speaking later in the meeting County Assessor Rick Meyer shared that his office is about determining value, not setting taxes.
Meyer says he believes this year was probably the first time the county had a professional commercial appraiser go out and do appraisals.
“It’s unfortunate the timing, but it is finished. It is done and we do have the board of equalization process in place so that people can get a time to appear before our Judge Kelly. So far we still have openings on that board of equalization time.”
Meyer confirmed that commercial property owners can bring in their income statements to the hearing officer before the officer makes a determination.
At the meeting, the commission did make adjustments to some assessments based on computer software mistakes that occurred in the two-week window in late spring that the assessor’s office has to submit appraisals.
The commission also approved Low-Income Abatements for 58 county residents that had qualified for the abatement after applying through a state tax commission form.
Both motions were approved unanimously by Adams and Commissioner Willie Grayeyes.
Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy was not in attendance.
Also at the meeting, the county received its audit report for the fiscal year that concluded at the end of 2021. Jon Haderlie of Larson & Co, shared with the commission the 81-page findings of the audit, including the two-paragraph opening opinion that in summary found the county’s financials in accordance with accounting principles.
Members of the county commission also approved an interlocal agreement between the county and the town of Bluff for the Building Resilient Inclusive Communities Grant.
County Public Health Director Grant Sunada explained that the county had already received the $10,000 grant, which will be administered by the town through the Bluff Food Pantry.
The funds will be used for improved advertising, collecting recipes using donated foods and improving connections of resources for those who consistently lack food.
Bluff Mayor Ann Leppanen shared that the pantry operates out of the town’s space under the direction of Ginny Burns. 
Leppanen added that in the first weekend of August the pantry served somewhere between 180-200 families and individuals.
“(Burns is) in great need of having things other than food to be able to support this project. Right now it’s funded through Ginny and her husband, or donations which are coming but they’re slow and people don’t have a lot of money to donate. So we appreciate the $10,000 grant.”
At the meeting, the commission also approved a letter to the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity supporting the county’s economic development application for $200,000 in Rural Grant Funding.
County Economic Development Director Elaine Gizler explained in 2022 the county has used the funding for over $173,000 in grant funding to local businesses, provided two scholarships to high school graduates, hired a grant writer and used funds to host a San Juan County Business Conference and Expo.
Gizler said they hope to lobby the state legislature to increase the maximum of $200,000 granted to each county.
“With the amount of poverty and levels that we are at, we stand out from the other 28 counties, the legislatures need to take a good hard look at San Juan County, we’re not lumped in with all the rest of them.”
At the meeting the commission also approved a lease of the county airport hangar at the Monticello airport.
Following a request for interest posted in April, the county will lease their hangar to County resident David Churchill for $425 per month.
McDonald pointed out the fiscal impact would be $5,100 in revenue for space that was vacated when the county sold its airplane.
The commission also accepted the returning of the La Sal Loop Road right of way.
The county had deeded the right-of-way to the Department of Transportation in order to secure federal funds for the resurfacing of the La Sal Loop Road.

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