A letter from John Hunt and a citizens group in Blanding received at the March 26 meeting of the San Juan County Commission was at the forefront of the April 2 meeting.
County Clerk Norman Johnson has contacted the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to seek information regarding a citizens group request that the property tax for the San Juan Health Service District be placed on the ballot.
The property tax generates roughly $1 million a year for the district, which operates the San Juan Hospital and several clinics in northern San Juan County.
Johnson said that according to state code, a citizen’s initiative requires the signatures of 15 percent of those who voted in the last presidential election. This would require 770 signatures in San Juan County. Johnson added that the signatures should be equally gathered in each of the three county voting districts, meaning one-third of the signatures would need to be from each commission district.
Johnson said that in order to be on the November ballot, the proposed ballot statement would need to be approved by the commission and signatures gathered prior to April 15. Johnson said he thinks the necessary steps cannot be completed in the next 13 days.
To further complicate the matter, Johnson stated that the Lt. Governor’s Office is unsure if the commission is the proper entity to deal with the request, since the Heath District is a special services district governed by its own board.
Johnson said the tax rate is set by the health board. He is unsure if the health board is the agency that would need to receive the petition.
Commissioner Phil Lyman asked if the commission could place the item on the ballot without a citizens’ initiative. Johnson is unsure if the commission could eliminate a tax that is levied by another body even though they are the agency that created the health service district.
Commissioner Bruce Adams said residential properties represent less than 18 percent of the taxes that are collected, with 63 percent of the taxes coming from centrally assessed properties, such as oil and gas properties. Johnson said the health district tax is levied county wide.
“So it’s fair to say the biggest payer of tax to support the hospital in the county comes from oil companies and centrally assessed properties?” asked Adams. Johnson said this was correct.
Adams pointed out that the net effect on taxes on a home would be small. Lyman pointed out that the county commission represents not only homeowners, but those who do business in the county as well.
Public comment questioned if reducing the tax burden on the tax payer might not be the main objective, as that amount is rather small, but rather it may be to take money from the health district board.
Lyman said he did not feel the intent is to take money from anyone but that the health care picture has changed greatly since the tax was created, when there were few other health care options.
Lyman said he would like to see the Health Service District become an agency for health care in the county in general and detach itself from specific providers like the San Juan Hospital in Monticello.
Lyman said that a lot of people would like to see taxes go down and government shrink wherever possible. He does not feel it is a malicious move by the citizens group.
Lyman said that if the issue is placed on the ballot, it would either affirm or disaffirm the tax. Adams pointed out that only eight percent of the county is really under private control, and taxes such as these are an effort to put less burden on the private property owner since larger entities who come into the county to recover minerals, etc. pay a large portion of the county property tax.
Johnson said there are many good questions raised by the citizens group, but the answer is complicated. He said he is actively seeking those answers.
In other business, Commissioner Lyman reported on meetings with the county road department regarding ongoing projects throughout the county. He said a Forest Service project near Round Mountain is bringing in a new machine that grinds the slick rock on the road, turning it into road base and hopefully improving and stabilizing the road.
Commissioners also discussed the Sunny Acres road in Spanish Valley. It is moving forward and should be completed this year. Commissioner Adams said that the road is narrow and needs to be widened and has a water problem. It is one of two main routes into the Spanish Valley area from highway 191 and has been an ongoing project for many years as they have tried to deal with right-of-way issues.
Lyman said a few projects on the south end of the county have had issues with road ownership and rights-of-way, including a bridge at Halchita and a road near the Oljato Chapter House.
Adams said they are working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to complete the two projects and feel like they are making progress. The Commission praised the road department for the good work they do in making decisions on road maintenance and advising the commissioners on important decisions.