County Auditor John Fellmeth states that the cash balance in county accounts has dropped by approximately $2 million over the past two years, from $39 million to $37 million.
“Cash in the bank is the main measure on how well we are doing,” said Fellmeth, who wanted to discuss with Commissioners the trends in property taxes, revenues, and expenditures.
Fellmeth added, “The main increase in expenditures is directly related to payroll costs.”
Property tax revenues are down by more than $665,000 a year since 2014, reflecting an ongoing drop of nearly $200 million in the value of county properties.
Fellmeth pointed out that expenditures are in line with the actions of the Commission. “Otherwise, the county is in excellent financial condition,” said Fellmeth. “For the most part, expenditures are not exceeding revenues.”
Nick Sandberg presented two documents to the Commissioners for their signatures relating to county participation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Services planning efforts.
Commissioner Phil Lyman expressed concern that some of these matters require more expertise than the Commissioners possess.
Lyman proposed the county consider investing in securing experts with a focus on county interests rather than accepting the expert opinions of those from the federal governmental agencies.
Commissioner Bruce Adams then presented the impact of legislation from 1992 regarding the dispersement of road funds in Utah. The formula is based on population rather than on mileage.
Adams said this decreased the amount of money that San Juan and similar counties receive from the State. To offset this inequality, new legislation was approved, HB 60, which changed the formula for assessing and dispersing funds for roads.
Adams said the more populous counties are now protesting the bill, and the funds have been illegally frozen. He reports that negotiations are in process to resolve the stalemate.
Nicole Perkins reported on current activities regarding the preservation of historical documents related to the history of San Juan County. Perkins is working to get the documents scanned and preserved.
She fears the historical documents will be accidentally destroyed. Perkins will contact the State of Utah to see what assistance the state can provide.
Commissioner Lyman proposed the County put something on the November 8 general election ballot to indicate public sentiment regarding the proposed Bears Ears National Monument. The legality of doing this was discussed and will be researched.
Following the ballot discussion, J. Shea Owens, Legal Counsel from the Governor’s Public Lands Office, met with the Commissioners to introduce himself and outline what his office can do for San Juan County.
With regard to the Bears Ears Monument, Owens said he has heard that “the monument is a done deal, and the county’s efforts would be better spent trying to get congressional protections.”
Commissioners did not agree.
The discussion moved on to concerns the Commissioners had regarding public land use. Commissioner Lyman said San Juan County only wants all the legal multiple uses of public lands as originally provided by law.
Commissioner Adams expressed his concern that the BLM Master Leasing Plan is ridiculous. “They say this piece of ground is open for leasing, but there is no surface occupancy,” said Adams. “Why would anyone bid on land when they can’t move a rig in to develop it?”
Adams added, “No surface occupancy is a code word for no development.”
According to Adams, San Juan County, as a cooperating agency, has never been able to impact decisions by the BLM.
Owens said, “According to the Forest Service, a cooperating agency should not have any influence on the decisions but should only assist in the facilitation of the decisions.”
Owens added that the key is to build a case file, as adjustments will only be made through litigation.
Commissioner Rebecca Benally asked what Owens and his office can actually do to assist San Juan County.
Owens said his office can act as mediator through their contacts. He added that his office can do what the environmental groups do, which is to sue and force awareness of the issue.
Commissioners also discussed new hires and a request for funds from Randy Rarick to fix the well at the county landfill.
Sheriff Rick Eldredge asked for funds to fix the Blanding City Dog Pound, so Blanding could work with the County to house stray dogs. Funds were approved pending a written contract.
Funds were requested for a new air compressor at the county road shed in Blanding. Other items discussed include easements for a storm drain and bonding for a gravel pit.
(Staff writer Eric Niven contributed to this story).