Bluff collecting signatures for incorporation process
by Zak Podmore
More than 80 people packed into the Bluff Community Center on Thursday, February 9 for a public information meeting on the community effort to incorporate as a town.
Although Bluff is home to several hundred residents, it is currently an unincorporated service area in San Juan County, not an official town.
Seven months ago, a group of local residents formed a Bluff Incorporation Committee to begin exploring the possibility of incorporation. At the Thursday meeting, the committee discussed reasons to incorporate and presented the steps needed to initiate the process.
Brant Murray, who served as a vice mayor for a city in North Carolina before moving to Bluff, helped spearhead the effort. “Bluff needs to represent itself because that’s the best way to represent our interests,” he said. “Our goal is to build a list of community values and implement them.”
Josh Ewing, another member of the committee, said, “Incorporation gives us more of an ability to control our own destiny by making decisions as a town through elected officials.”
Ewing cited a garbage pickup service and more money for local parks and recreation as the types of services elected officials could decide to provide in an incorporated town.
He also explained that, under the Utah Constitution, incorporation would give Bluff protection from the transfer of water rights and would secure adequate water supplies for the town in perpetuity.
Several presenters mentioned local control of planning and zoning as a reason to incorporate. Currently the only zoning regulations in Bluff are the San Juan County codes.
Murray said any planning and zoning decisions in an incorporated town of Bluff would be formed through “a ground-up process based on community input.”
Mary Gillam presented a map of the proposed town boundaries, which stretch from Comb Ridge to Recapture Canyon. The San Juan River forms most of the proposed southern boundary, while the northern boundary would be roughly three miles north of town on the Bluff Bench.
Gillam said the boundary was placed along existing survey lines. It’s considerably larger than the current Bluff Service Area, Gillam explained, “to account for potential future development and to include more of town’s groundwater aquifer.”
The area consists of primarily private, federal, and SITLA land. Incorporation would not affect current land ownership.
For the incorporation process to begin, the community must gather signatures from 20 percent of the registered voters, as well as individuals representing 20 percent of the assessed property value in the proposed town boundaries.
Petitions are currently being distributed to registered voters and property owners in Bluff.
If a sufficient number of residents sign on, the petition will be delivered to the Utah Lieutenant Governor Office, which will commence a financial feasibility study of the proposed incorporation. The study will determine whether incorporation is economically viable for the community, based on tax revenue and expenses.
If incorporation is deemed feasible, the study will be made available and a public meeting will be held. The community will then vote on whether or not to incorporate. Permanent residents who live within the proposed town limits, and who are registered to vote, will be eligible to participate.
An affirmative vote by more than 50 percent of participating voters in a formal election is necessary to approve incorporation.
Residents who petition to conduct the feasibility study are not required to support incorporation after the feasibility study is completed.
The committee said they hope the vote will take place in a special election as soon as June or August.
If the measure passes, residents would then elect a four-member town council and a mayor in the following November election.
During the question and answer session, audience members asked whether taxes would increase with incorporation and which services the town would be required to provide. Committee members said many of those details would be decided by the elected town council.
Multiple audience members expressed frustration with the current governance in Bluff.
“That’s the problem,” Murray said after the meeting. “We don’t know who’s running Bluff right now and decisions aren’t getting made.”
“But look at this community,” he said of the large turnout. “We’re a town, even if it’s not official yet.”
Maps and more information can be found at www.incorporatebluff.org.