San Juan County Commission hears zoning concerns, sets tax rate

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the San Juan County Commission heard from La Sal residents regarding property rights, approved a grant aimed at increasing the number of Native Americans in governmental administrative positions, and approved the certified property tax rate at their latest meeting.
The San Juan County Commission heard from residents of La Sal regarding the proposed updated San Juan County Land Use Plan at the July 2 meeting.
A scheduled public hearing for the adoption of the 2024 Zoning Ordinance and Maps was canceled ahead of the July 2 meeting but members of the commission still heard from several county residents regarding the proposal during public comments.
Five La Sal residents spoke out against rezoning in the area that could move parcels of land from green belt to residential, as well as any rezoning that would limit allowing livestock and other animals on their property.
La Sal residents also asked for a public meeting to be held in La Sal to allow working residents to attend and voice their opinions.
 The commission also heard from a landowner south of Blanding who wanted additional information on the proposal.
In response to the feedback Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Trent Schafer shared the update has been in the works for decades.
“We’re trying to correct some huge mistakes that got passed in 2019. That’s our goal is to get a great working document. We commit to having meetings in La Sal before this moves.”
Schafer added they’re regrouping and working to get the land use plan updated.
Commissioner Bruce Adams also spoke, noting his opposition to a 2019 land use draft plan that was passed by members of the previous commission, and added the county is working to update the plan. Adams also added assurances to those in attendance.
“We’re not trying to eliminate animal rights, we don’t want to raise your taxes, we don’t want to do anything that damages your property rights.
“I think I could speak for the other two commissioners, we’re private property rights advocates and I think that the Planning and Zoning Commission is too.
“We want to do what’s right. We get complaints about people offending or doing something that is harmful to their neighbor’s property rights. We Want to make sure we protect both you and your neighbor and your property rights.”
Members of the San Juan County Commission also approved an interagency agreement between the county and the Utah Department of Workforce Services, for $30,000 through the Navajo Revitalization Fund for continuation on a study related to Native American residents working government jobs.
County Administrator Mack McDonald explained that in April 2023 the county received $30,000 from the International City/County Management Association and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to address the lack of Native American residents serving in administrative government jobs, despite making up more than 50 percent of the population in the county.
San Juan County is one of ten recipients of the award. The identified goal of the project is to understand and establish a path for Native Americans to understand existing employment opportunities in the government sector and identify barriers to address for Indigenous populations to diversify local government employment.
In November 2023, the county approved a contract with a planning group to create an Economic Mobility Report, which would help design a path for Native American residents to become educated on government employment opportunities at an early age in anticipation that students will make a goal of being employed in government roles.
McDonald explained “From the first round we were able to establish the baseline and figure out what the need was here in San Juan County and see why we don’t see many Native Americans jumping into county management jobs, or BLM, or US Forest Service, or other government acronym jobs.”
At the July 2 meeting, McDonald explained the $30,000 from the Navajo Revitalization Fund will be used to develop programs of integration. 
McDonald shared another aspect that the original study didn’t consider as much were the additional opportunities within the Navajo Nation government systems.
Part of the programs will likely address school drop-out rates which are higher in certain areas in the county. With most executive positions in government requiring a bachelor’s degree, drop-outs are an issue to increase a more reflective workforce.
“With these efforts we can establish programs at an early age to get them interested in a career that does require college. So they can have that in their thoughts ‘I can stay here, work for my government, be a chapter president, or a chapter manager’ who are required to have that degree.”
McDonald says the establishment of programs will work with Utah State University-Blanding and the San Juan School District as those entities have been attempting to address employment issues as well.
Commissioner Stubbs added a comment that as the county works on the Tribal lands it is imperative that it is done without stepping on sovereignty of Native Nations.
Members of the commission unanimously approved the interagency agreement for the grant.
Members of the San Juan County Commission also approved the annual certified property tax rate. County Clerk/Auditor Lyman Duncan explained the rate was set with the state of Utah Tax Commission. 
Duncan explained with new properties brought into the county over the past year the rates will be decreasing as there’s more property to be taxed. Real property values increased by $27 million to $727 million; personal property values increased by $16 million to $106 million.
Duncan did share that centrally assessed properties including power plants, pipelines and telecoms structures did see a slight decrease in value from $294 million to $292 million.
When asked about the decrease Duncan explained it wasn’t a surprise to the county. “They have really good attorneys and they attack the valuation system and are very successful at getting them reduced.”
A staff document estimated the certified tax rates for the general fund, library, tort liability and public health should result in county revenue just shy of $2.8 million.
Adams clarified that the rate set is for the county and does not include the school district or local municipalities.
Members of the commission unanimously approved the county tax rate
San Juan County commissioners also approved a letter supporting the Sheriff’s Department seeking a grant to help cover costs for a new K-9 drug detecting dog.
Sheriff Deputy Payton Palmer explained the department was applying for a grant for a new dog through the San Juan County Clean Energy Foundation, which is funded by donations and profits from the White Mesa Mill and Energy Fuels.
Palmer explained that with Highway 191 acting as a major corridor for drug trafficking in the US, an additional K-9 unit in the area would be key to enhance intervention.
The grant application by the department would ask the Clean Energy Foundation to cover the cost of the initial year with the dog including a crate, harness and of course training of the dog.
Under the proposal the county sheriff’s department would cover the rest of the K-9 service as a line item in the annual budget.
Members of the commission approved a letter in support of the grant application, to go along with letters signed by the Mayors of Monticello and Blanding and Blanding Chief of Police JJ Bradford.
Members of the San Juan County Commission also approved another part of an opioid settlement with corporations responsible for the nation-wide opioid crisis caused by promotion of and misuse of opioid subscriptions resulting in dependency throughout the US.
The latest settlement agreement with all the counties in the state of Utah is against Kroger which is getting close to settlement. The amount the county will receive has not been decided yet, but will be determined by a formula to distribute the settlement funds to Utah’s counties.
Initially San Juan County and Grand County attempted to seek damages from opioid makers and distributors on their own in hopes of getting a settlement that more closely matched the damages done to the area by the opioid crisis. However the counties eventually were made to join the rest of the state in settlement efforts, as part of joining the agreement the county will agree not to sue Kroger again for its part in the opioid crisis.
“We’re a small small piece of the overall puzzle throughout the state, we don’t get a lot of money but we do get some from these settlements.”
Members of the commission unanimously approved the participation packet agreement.
San Juan County Commissioners also approved a Powerline Easement Survey between the county and Empire Electric Association at the county fairgrounds as the county finishes installing new RV stalls at the fairgrounds. Members of the commission also approved an agreement with the Utah State Library system allowing county library users to access online titles through Overdrive.

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