County Commission set to promote economic development efforts throughout the county
by David Boyle
Members of the San Juan County Commission renewed a contract agreement with the Spanish Valley liaison, and approved a resolution to encourage economic development at their latest meeting.
Members of the San Juan County commission unanimously passed a resolution aimed at encouraging economic development in the county at their January 17 meeting.
The resolution highlights economic issues facing the county including the county sales tax leakage report showing the county is capturing less than its fair share of retail sales. The resolution also highlights a decrease in county population despite growth in the state as well as limited housing inventory and its impacts on economic growth.
The resolution was presented by Commissioner Bruce Adams who highlighted portions including portions that says the county has not promoted growth in the past four years.
“We have restricted, discouraged development, and stifled the entrepreneurial small business abilities to help communities thrive.”
The resolution encourages smart growth development including expansion of current businesses and the attraction of new businesses including manufacturing, hotel development, big-box opportunities and mineral extraction. The resolution also encourages businesses coming to San Juan County to aid in workforce housing shortages. The commission resolution also encourages towns and cities to encourage new growth through ordinances. The resolution also encourages citizens and property owners to open boarded and vacant commercial businesses and the Navajo Nation Economic Development Director to work with the county to encourage business development at the chapters.
Commissioner Jamie Harvey expressed his gratitude that the resolution was inclusive to the Navajo Nation and saw opportunity for the county to benefit from getting the resolution into action.
Commissioner Silvia Stubbs also expressed excitement for the resolution saying she believed the county had lots of good opportunities ahead.
San Juan County Economic Development Director Elaine Gizler said she was delighted to see the resolution.
“We lose so much sales tax revenue from those (boarded up) businesses. I hope that each community (...) can help to lift San Juan County up by getting these boarded up buildings open.”
Gizler also reported that the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments (SEUALG) had recently approved a $15,000 to 20,000 feasibility study to look at opportunities to bring businesses to San Juan County.
The resolution also received support in public comment from Randy Day
“I came today specifically to thank the commission for item 14 in bold letters. I want you to know what a relief that is to me being in the development world and trying to get things done.”
Since 2009 San Juan County has contracted with Jerry McNeely to act as a planning liaison for northern San Juan County. While the commission voted to amend McNeely’s contract with a raise, the decision received some consideration after public feedback.
Spanish Valley resident Carolyn Dailey spoke in public comment opposed to the amendment to the contract saying that McNeely doesn’t represent the views of all citizens in Spanish Valley. “It is shocking that he is to be paid $1,500 a month plus be given a county vehicle and cell phone for what essentially amounts to having a weekly breakfast with his cronies and passing along already available public reports such as the level of Ken’s Lake.”
Dailey also expressed concern about the use of taxpayer funds for a liaison when other entities including the Spanish Valley library had been asked to cut their budget.
Also speaking against the agreement was Spanish Valley resident Marlene Huckabay who questioned the value of the contract and offered to report to the county when flooding occurs.
Another Spanish Valley resident said she wasn’t aware of the position and asked that a clear set of tasks be set for the position that could be measured.
Later in the meeting San Juan County Administrator Mack McDonald explained McNeely, a former Grand County commissioner, acts as “eyes and ears” for county staff who can’t quickly travel back and forth from Monticello and Spanish Valley.
Among duties listed in the staff report include assisting with roads, signage, atmospherics, floods and weather conditions as well as county representation for agencies including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service, School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), as well as Grand County and Moab City.
McDonald noted that McNeely is at the Branding Iron restaurant every Wednesday at 1:00 for public input and was giving monthly reports to the commission before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The amendment passed at the meeting increased McNeely’s monthly compensation from $1,200 a month to $1,500. The first increase since 2014 according to McDonald. A previous attempt to amend McNeely’s contract in May of 2021 was not passed by the commission.
Speaking at the meeting county road department director TJ Adair said McNeely’s work is well worth the cost for his department in diagnosing issues.
“If I get a complaint I can call him, have him take pictures and send them to me so I know what equipment to send from the south end of the county. For us not having to go down evaluate and come back it doesn’t take very many trips to make his salary worth it to the county.”
McDonald agreed that McNeely’s contract was positive for the county.
“We see him as another arm to the county, to get an employee for $1,500 a month is a pretty reasonable cost, rather than having to hire an additional planner to do the functions that Jerry does.”
County Public Lands Coordinator Nick Sandberg also spoke in favor of McNeely’s continued work noting his weekly meetings with BLM and Forest Service agencies in the area and particularly addressing issues on the La Sal mountains.
Adams also spoke in favor of McNeely’s efforts including work during the Special Service District Water and Sewer project, working with SITLA and other projects in northern San Juan County.
Harvey thanked members of the Spanish Valley community for providing public input and asked that specific duties be written into the contract, including an ask for continued reports.
The county contract is sole-source meaning the county does not ask for requests for proposal (RFP) but seeks just one vendor with specific expertise to fill needs. Other county sole source contracts exist, but Harvey asked that the county reconsider that.
“I don’t want to dismiss Mr. McNeely. It sounds like he’s done a lot of good work, his efforts are critical to the county but at some point perhaps we might consider opening up an RFP. Maybe we have experts in the community that could be interested too. However for the sake of time and because this is from what I understand very critical to the interests of the county. I think we’ll move forward.”
Stubbs asked that the commission table the decision to allow for more discussion. The amendment passed by a vote of 2-1 with Adams and Harvey voting for and Stubbs voting against.
At the meeting members of the commission also updated a county ordinance increasing reimbursement for meals to match standardized rates for Utah.
The commission also accepted an annual grant of $7,100 from the state for the county library department.
The commission also approved a contract amendment to allow ACME Iron and Metal to continue to remove scrap metal and salvage from the county landfill. ACME will pay the county $80 per ton for recyclable metals. Last year the company paid San Juan County nearly $25,000.
The commission also approved the purchase of three additional ballot drop boxes funded by a state grant. County Clerk/Auditor Lyman Duncan reported the county plans to place the drop boxes at chapter houses during the 2024 election.