The Blanding City Council continued their months-long discussion on Community Reinvestment Agency (CRA) policy revisions at their April 23 meeting.
Blanding Mayor Joe B. Lyman reiterated his opinion that public funds be used only for public projects and private funds be used for private projects.
Councilman Robert Turk said he agrees with Lyman, but he doesn’t want to limit the city ability to improve or to use CRA funds. Other council members stated they also did not want to limit the city ability to use the funds most effectively.
Ultimately, the council tabled the issue after Turk expressed a desire to hear from City Manager Jeremy Redd one more time before making a final decision. Redd was unable to attend the April 23 meeting.
Blanding Economic Development Specialist Pratt Redd gave a report about the new city website. He said the goal was to draw people to the site first for information and learn how to use it. He reported a good month of March with the site logging over 6,600 visits.
He reported that Maverik has purchased land north of the Visitor’s Center where they will build a convenience store in the near future.
Redd said Moab-based veterinarian Scott Dolginow and his wife Patsy Wilmerding are currently remodeling a building just north of the new credit union where they plan to operate their Cedar Mesa Animal Hospital.
He said the new Desert Rivers Credit Union branch that opened on April 25 makes the corner of Center and Main look really good. “Combined with the vet clinic,” he said, “the city will have a nice four-way intersection.”
Redd reported that the new 42,000 square foot Utah Navajo Health Systems clinic is expected to open on August 2. An open house is scheduled for July 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We are working closely with the county on an upcoming Rural Economic Diversification Summit that county Economic Development Director Natalie Randall designed,” he stated.
“We want to pull in people from around the county to address expanding and improving businesses that we currently have.” The summit is scheduled for September 23.
Redd pointed out that the City of Blanding collects a one percent Transient Room Tax (TRT) from tourism-based businesses such as hotels, motels, and campgrounds.
Randall added that the San Juan County Economic Development Office matches the funds the city collects. Blanding collected $35,000 in 2018, which her office matched.
Redd said the main goal with the TRT money is to help Blanding businesses retain employees and expand where possible.
He explained that it is more difficult to use TRT money for new businesses and that CRA funds will come into play in those cases.
Councilwoman Cheryl Bowers asked whether the city should decide how to spend TRT money or if the county makes that decision.
Randall reported that the previous county commission wanted to divide the funds 50/50 between tourism marketing and mitigation but the current commission hasn’t taken a stance.
Redd reported that the city plans to take advantage of a co-op marketing grant offered by the county and funded by the TRT.
He said businesses can apply for up to $5,000 to advertise their event. The city is currently in the application process, which Randall said closes on June 1.
Redd said the Rural Online Initiative (ROI) has been a very successful program. The ROI was initiated by the state to help individuals living in rural areas take advantage of freelance, job, and business opportunities available online.
Redd reported that an ROI town hall meeting in Blanding drew 33 people and will provide “soft skill” job training. He said the program will allow Blanding residents who have a skill not being utilized locally to outsource that skill but still work in Blanding.
The Council heard a report from Councilwoman Cheryl Bowers on the April 16 San Juan County Commission meeting.
Mayor Lyman thanked Bowers for the report and concluded that it’s important for the city to “keep tabs on issues that are directly related to the city as an entity and...be more actively involved with those.”
In another report to the council, Blanding Financial Director Kim Palmer clarified the Blanding Utility Emergency Protocol to the council.
She said for an emergency during business hours, residents should call the city at 435-678-2791. The city maintains an on-call number for after hours, weekends, and holidays at 435-678-2916.
For power outages, Palmer urged residents to call the Rocky Mountain Power Outage Center at 877-508-5088 and report that they are a “No Match” customer from Blanding.
Lyman said 99 percent of the time the city receives a sewer emergency call it is not the main city line. “But,” he said, “the city will show up immediately just in case.” In a recent emergency call, he said, it just happened to be the one percent.
The council heard a 2018 final summary from Fire Chief Corey Spillman. He reported a total of 48 callouts in 2018, mainly structure fires, car fires, accidents, and lightning strikes.
Spillman said the city received assistance last summer when the governor declared a state of fire emergency. “The state gave us ‘severity crews,’” he explained, that “came down and gave us a little bit of a break.”
Spillman said the department engaged in 55 training sessions in 2018, totaling 104 hours of training. The department currently has 19 members, nine of which are certified at the Firefighter I and II state level and the HAZMAT Awareness and Operation level.
The Firefighter I and II certifications are the same credentials that career firefighters in Salt Lake City, UT must possess. They require 116 hours of classroom time and an eight-hour written test.
The HAZMAT course is comprised of 52 hours of classroom instruction and a four-hour written test.
“Hats off to anybody on the department who devotes the time to getting those certifications,” Spillman said, “because they don’t get paid for any of it.”
He said the department has seven members who are “Red Card” certified, which is required to fight any federal or state wildfire. If a firefighter is not Red-Carded, they are removed from the fire once the BLM or Forest Service arrives.
Spillman said nine members of the Blanding Fire Department are currently training for Red Card certifications.
He explained that current certifications do not allow the department “to go into a ‘hot zone.’ For instance, if there’s a tanker rollover, depending on what chemical is spilled, we are required to keep a certain distance.
“So you could essentially have hydrochloric acid going into the sewer while we’re waiting for the tech crew to arrive from Salt Lake City or wherever.”
He reported that two members of the department are currently participating in a state-funded HAZMAT Tech class in Alabama. “Once they’re certified,” he said, “we could prevent something like that from happening.”
“We train hard to serve the community,” Spillman pointed out. “We do lots of public relations at the schools, with the Scouts, the teddy bear clinic, and STEAM Expo.
“We put on a fire extinguisher course. We take time to tour businesses so we know the layout in the case of an incident.”
Mayor Lyman said the city needs to support the fire department as much as possible. He reiterated that they don’t receive much reimbursement for the great service they provide the community.
“The fire department never ceases to amaze me what you guys have been doing for the last 40 years,” he said. “It’s really quite an astounding fire department that we have.”