At the current time, San Juan County generates approximately $750,000 a year from the taxes, which are paid by motel customers and restaurant patrons. The proposal under consideration would give cities the room tax, but keep the restaurant tax under county control.
About 34 percent of the total tax is generated in Monticello and Blanding, with the remaining two-thirds coming from properties throughout the county, including Monument Valley and Bluff.
The funds are administered by the county economic development and tourism department, under the oversight of an advisory council.
Commissioner Phil Lyman read the proposed resolution at the August 6 Commission meeting and said, “The drive behind this resolution is to put control of these funds to promote tourism at the local level, rather than delegating this to a higher level of responsibility.”
The resolution was listed on the agenda as an action item and, if passed, was set to take effect immediately. Commissioners adjusted the agenda to discuss the issue beginning at 10:50 a.m., rather than the published time of 11:25 a.m.
After receiving a number of comments, the Commission determined a goal to readdress the issue at the August 20 Commission meeting.
Commissioner Bruce Adams expressed support for the concept but concern about rushing the process. “The danger is we may look a little heavy handed if we don’t have some discussion with the impacted groups.”
Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy suggested, “Don’t move hastily to make a decision at this point. Give these folk a little bit of time and let them talk about it… what they want to do. Small communities may be impacted in some way.”
Before the August 20 meeting, a number of meetings will be held to seek input from the business communities, City Councils, and the Advisory Board.
Greg Westfall, assistant city manager in Monticello, said the Monticello City Council had discussed the issue informally, but it had not been put on an agenda.
Westfall said there were mixed reviews, but that was partially due to lack of awareness of the whole issue. The council had not seen the resolution.
Blanding area businesses expressed support for the proposal, stating that the county-wide promotional efforts have minimal impact in Blanding.
Joe B. Lyman, a businessman and member of the Blanding City Council, said that he interviews his customers and in the past ten years, few customers have entered his store because of county advertising.
Lyman said that the busloads of international tourists just drive through Blanding. The Blanding Area Travel Council would like to use the funds to market to a regional audience, rather than to an international audience.
Lyman adds that the Blanding City Council unanimously supports the resolution.
Bluff business owners Steve Simpson and Cindy Tumeh arrived later to discuss the issue, stating that they had first heard of it 45 minutes earlier.
Simpson said, “The concern is that this is an action item on the agenda, something that would take effect immediately. I would like more open and robust discussion on how this would impact our efforts.”
Tumeh expressed concern about the redistribution of the funds and its impact on non-incorporated areas, including Bluff and Monument Valley.
“In Bluff, we feel the impact of what the county tourism department is doing,” said Tumeh.
“My concern is what would be the disruption of what is currently happening… I’m guessing that the south end of the county would suffer greatly from a redistribution.”
Tumeh, who has served on the Advisory Board for 12 years, said “I think it is a huge detriment to split the money up. Bluff and Monument Valley collect twice what the others collect.”
Steve Simpson said he supports the idea of the cities coming to the table with what they would like to do with the money.
Blanding resident Marilyn Boynton said, “If Blanding and Monticello were to split off, it wouldn’t be fair for the county to promote Blanding and Monticello. They would be getting twice the benefit.”
Bill Haven, who serves as chairman of the Blanding Area Travel Council and is on the county Advisory Council, said, “There is a disconnect between the county program and the benefit to Monticello and Blanding... There are some things we would like to do if we have a budget.”
Haven said that several travel-related businesses in Blanding have gone out of business and added, “There is a problem and we have got to address that problem.”
In other matters at the August 6 Commission meeting, San Juan County Fair manager Anna Adair approached the commission to express frustration with a lighting project at the fairgrounds.
Adair reports that poor communication between the architect and the contractor is leaving the fairgrounds without power in several areas.
Timing is a big problem in two ways. The fair is currently in the middle of its annual ten-day run. In addition, the county has until September 30 to complete fairground projects or it risks losing $300,000 in federal funding.
Work is still needed on three power poles, but it is not in the contract and would required a $10,000 change order.
A motion was approved to talk to the architect and contractor and to approve a change order, if needed.
Jason Johnson, the area manager for Forestry Fire and State Lands, reports that it has been a busy fire season in San Juan County. However, crews have been able to keep the acreage lost to fire in the county to four acres of private land and 24 acres total.
He reports that local crews have done a good job in responding to the fires and added that they have also had an element of good luck.
Johnson reports that the fire season is only half over, and we still have a ways to go.