Councilman resigns from Blanding City Council

by Kara Laws
Blanding City Councilman Trevor Olsen has resigned from the city council effective immediately. Olsen announced his decision at the May 9 meeting of the council.
Olsen was elected to the city council in 2015 and is in his second year of service. He did not announce a reason for the resignation, but since beginning his service on the city council, Olsen was hired as the Comprehensive Services Director for the San Juan School District and became a councilor in the stake presidency of the Blanding Utah Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Blanding City is now taking applications for a new council member.
The City Council regretfully accepted Olsen’s resignation and expressed a hope to fill the position with someone who is equally qualified and dedicated. The Council thanked Olsen for his service and said he will be greatly missed.
In other business at the May 9 meeting, the Blanding City Council will begin a discussion to address the rules and regulations of Airbnb-type home rentals.
An Airbnb home rental, or vacation rental, is when a home, a room, or a portion of a home is rented out like a hotel for a short-term living arraignments. These are usually rented out to traveling patrons.
This home rental business has grown in the past nine years, giving families and entrepreneurs a way to make some extra money on their properties. Many long-term rentals are being converted to short-term vacation type rentals throughout the world.
There are currently 22 active Airbnb rentals within the Blanding City zip code, with 18 different hosts, or property owners. This does not include rentals listed on other sites.
That number has only risen in the last four years, rising by approximately 54 percent each year. Currently, occupancy rates for Airbnb rentals in Blanding are at an all time high. In March, 87 percent of available homes were filled and brought in an estimated $11,200 in revenue.
Short-term home rentals are not a new idea in San Juan County. Other companies have been renting homes in the county for almost a decade. However, as vacation rentals within city limits continue to rise, Mayor Calvin Balch is concerned about the quality of living for the homes and families near the rentals.
During a long conversation with the Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison, Mayor Balch said that he heard several of the issues impacting Moab when it comes to vacation rentals of this nature.
Some of the issues plaguing the residents of Moab, according to the Mayor, include out-of-control parties, irresponsible ATV use within city limits, noise complaints, increase in police department calls, and parking issues.
Mayor Balch expressed Mayor Sakrison’s sentiments that Blanding City is “absolutely nuts” by not having in place a set of regulations and rules on homes being turned into businesses or motels.
Mayor Balch asked the Blanding City Council to start thinking and discussing if Blanding needs rules and regulations surrounding these rentals.
The Council briefly discussed what the regulations might address, including tiny homes, commercial property licensing, parking regulations, state regulations, and zoning regulations.
They asked a number of questions, including, “Do we want these rental properties on every street and within every zone?”
They also asked if rentals are run safely and within state regulations. For example, homes that are rented to seven or more occupants must have a sprinkler system.
The item was put on the agenda for further discussion at the next city council meeting. All who are concerned about vacation rentals, how they are run, and if there should be rules and regulations attached to them, are welcome to attend.
Other discussions at city council included the city council’s decision to join the Special Services Health District under county management.
Kirk Benge, the new Public Health Director for San Juan County, came to answer the council’s questions about the issue.
Benge assured the council that legally, the county has to provide a health district of some kind to its residents. So, if the council does not agree to be a part of the Special Service Health District, the city and county would have to come to another agreement.
Benge spent time explaining to the council the responsibilities of the health department. Programs the health department manages include WIC, food-handlers permits, health inspections, water quality control, installation of septic tanks, and environmental control. The department will also take part in immunization programs again.
Councilman Joe B. Lyman asked about funding and wondered if the Health Department would receive less funds if Blanding did not agree to join the Special Service District.
Benge said that while most of the funding comes from the state, and as the county is required to provide these services to all of the residents of San Juan County, it is not likely they will pull much funding. Benge did admit that a funding cut is possible.
Benge added that the reason the county wants the Special Service District is to allow the Health Department autonomy and to separate their liability from the county. Benge assured the council that taxes would not be raised and could not be raised without a county-wide vote.
Councilman Lyman informed that council that the tax rate for the health department is not as high as previously reported by County Commissioner Phil Lyman and still has room to be increased. The tax rate for these services is currently under one-half of what it could be.
However, one of the biggest concerns of the council is not the taxes nor the role of the Special Service District (which will exist with or without Blanding City), but with losing a voice on the Public Health Board that makes decisions for the Special Service District. If Blanding is not part of the district, they would not be represented on the seven-member district board.
“Give us the vacancy on the board and I am in favor,” Balch told Benge.
This resulted in the unanimously-supported motion to join the San Juan County Special Service Health District on the condition that Blanding City Council receives a seat on the board under the bylaws of the new Special Service District.
The City Council will wait to hear back from the county before making more decisions related to the Health District.
In other news, the council approved a letter of support for the San Juan County Resource Management Plan, complimenting its thoroughness, and advanced thinking.
Councilman Lyman said it gives the county “more weight on the table” with federal agencies who are voicing their opinions on how San Juan County should be run.

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